TELEVISION / Palm-top wizardry: Thomas Sutcliffe glimpsed the future, and found geeks

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The Independent Culture
Forget about learning Japanese in preparation for the new commercial world order - power has shifted and the prospect of a Greater Nippon looks a little less likely these days. Instead you should be brushing up your Microsoft.

Here are two pieces of vocabulary to get you started: 'pixel- necked geek' and 'bandwidth'. A pixel-necked geek refers to someone who has become so absorbed in his computer that his face has fused with the screen. Bandwidth is a measure of your capacity to absorb new information. As it happens, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is a very good example of a pixel- necked geek but, as he is the richest man in America and as he has the 'biggest bandwidth I've ever come across' (as one breathless woman confessed in Horizon's film on information technology), he can afford not to worry too much about it.

Gates has larger ambitions on his mind, anyway. One computer journalist put it bluntly: 'Microsoft is an attempt to conquer the world.' The medium for this attempt is information, as manipulated by the new electronic technology. Sheila Hayman's film 'The Electronic Frontier' (BBC 2) was in part a new products review in this field, showing us how it won't be long before the services available on a normal high street (bank, library, post office et cetera) are compressed inside a palm-top computer. Whoever can produce the industry standard for such a system will make a fortune.

Gates is fairly determined that it will be Microsoft and (such is his bandwidth) he hasn't forgotten that you can also turn a buck selling the information that's going to be shuffled about. Under development are a Microsoft Encyclopedia and a digitised database of one million of 'the most interesting images in the world'. Think of the richness, Gates said, of being given all this information 'without having to go out and acquire it'.

There you heard the authentic voice of the pixel-necked geek, unable to distinguish between a boggling collection of facts and the getting of wisdom. Information freaks call this virtual realm of communications the Net. This film reminded you that you can use a Net to trap consumers.