Tim Walker: 'In the flurry of technical advancement, we've lost our sense of wonder'

The Couch Surfer: 'In 1999 I gave my first webmail account a novelty address that I didn’t shake off until 2004'
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The Independent Tech

Here's a couple of 21st- century stories that I couldn't have told 10 years ago and which ought to make me happy.

While watching the trailer for Nowhere Boy – Sam Taylor-Wood's forthcoming biopic of the young John Lennon – for the second time on YouTube, I decided that the background music was rather lovely. I didn't recognise it (and it wasn't The Beatles) so I dug out my iPhone, pressed the receiver to my computer speakers and used the Shazam music identification app to discern exactly what it was. Five seconds or so elapsed before I learned the track was "What I Have Left", by someone called Mike Bones.

I booted up Spotify, and about 10 seconds after that I was listening to the song in full, while learning from Wikipedia that Bones was a New York-based singer-songwriter best known for his work with underground artists such as Soldiers of Fortune and The Mighty Flashlight (nope, haven't heard of them either). The next day, feeling retro, I bought the song on iTunes. Wikipedia was launched in 2000; the iTunes store in 2003; YouTube in 2005; and Spotify in 2006. Shazam became an app when the iPhone was released in 2007. You could argue that the decade has been catastrophic for the music industry, but for music lovers it's been spectacular.

Story two: I wanted a sofa for my flat, but I was skint. So I joined a local group on Freecycle.org (founded in 2003) and discovered that someone called Arianna wanted shot of a large sofabed less than a mile from my door. I still needed to transport it somehow, so I registered online with a service called Streetvan (founded in 2004 as Streetcar) and booked a van for two hours that evening. I didn't have to go to a rental depot because the van was already parked round the corner from my flat. The customer services people unlocked it remotely for me while I was standing next to it. The keys were in the glovebox. After successfully not crashing the van – although I did get lost once and stalled it twice – and with the help of Arianna's big strong flatmate Rob to carry it to said van, I had myself some chic-ish new furniture, gratis (okay, so the van cost me about £20, I wasn't totally skint) less than half a day after deciding I wanted it.

So there I was, sitting on my new old sofa, listening to Mike Bones, and remembering that in 1999 I'd just set up my first webmail account; I foolishly gave it a novelty address that I didn't manage to shake off until 2004. I had a pint-sized mobile phone with about 12 free minutes per month. Emoticons were cutting edge. I was mildly concerned, and a little excited, by something called the Millennium Bug. It's remarkable how far technology has come since then. But what's even more remarkable is how many new things I've found to complain about.

Why is it that with a vast catalogue of just-about-free music at my fingertips, not to mention a telephone that can identify it in seconds, I'm consumed with frustration at not being able to listen to Spotify and check my emails at the same time on my iPhone? Meanwhile, one of my colleagues just spent what seemed like half the afternoon complaining about the new "ReTweet" button on Twitter (est. 2006), which has made it quicker and more straightforward to re-post another user's tweet. He's not happy with it because it's reformatted the old days. He's been on Twitter since May.

In this flurry of technological advancement, I think perhaps we've lost our sense of wonder. Next time you're grinding your teeth because a webpage is taking longer than two seconds to load, or you find yourself whining that The Beatles aren't on iTunes yet, just remember to be amazed at what you've come to expect.


Another wonderful thing that didn't exist in 1999: the humiliating celebrity remix. Remember when Christian Bale went postal on the set of Terminator: Salvation and it became a banging techno tune? Alec Baldwin and David Hasselhoff got the same treatment after drunken exchanges with their daughters hit the web. Now Tiger Woods, whose slapstick sex life has already generated reams of satirical copy, is the star of a viral video. Forget Joe off X Factor or Rage Against The Machine. For sheer entertainment value, the "Tiger Woods Slow Jam Remix" featuring the voicemail that Woods left for one Ms Jaimee Grubbs (tinyurl.com/ye97mcr), ought to be a shoo-in for Christmas number one.