A gradual, though not particularly subtle, form of brainwashing has persuaded us that technology rules, and that it is OK. We have come to believe that we could not do without it, and if we do resist the notion that our lives would be unmanageable without the appliances of science, we certainly do not want to relinquish them. Pity the generations whose lives were blighted by tedious and blister-inducing toil. Even our brains are relieved of exertion by computers that not only perform miraculous calculations with amazing speed, but now provide our entertainment: the essential fin de siecle accessory is not the toy boy but the Nintendo Game Boy.
However, a recent unhappy experience with my malfuntioning word processor - a pounds 48 call-out fee, a labour charge of pounds 15 per quarter of an hour, plus parts and replacement costs - has confirmed a suspicion that gadgets are often not worth the expense or the trouble. Are we as dependent on technology as we imagine? Bit by bit, I have been letting the household technology fall by the wayside as its natural and often short life expires.
First to go was the dishwasher. I had always felt that by the time we had collected enough crocks for a worthwhile load, put in the soap and the rinse aid, emptied the filter of the disgusting gunge it collected and filled it with special salt (not to mention shopping for these wretchedly weighty items), I could have done the lot by hand. So when the thing started making curious noises, which continued even when it was disconnected by a puzzled service agent, I abandoned it to the back yard, where it whispers damply to itself like some robot ghost. Meanwhile I have regained control of my sink, where I plunge my hands into the suds and daydream while doing the washing up - an agreeable, if temporarily forgotten, activity.
Of course, there are some gadgets I would not like to be without. A year living in Spain without a washing machine convinced me of the value of the electric washtub. But there are others whose loss has brought unexpected delight. Feeling that we were becoming too apt to collapse in front of the television, or slot in a video, I sent back the rented equipment and we returned to the small black-and-white portable. It is a real strain on the eyes and concentrates the mind on what is really worth watching. We now spend a lot more time walking the dog (who never liked television anyway), reading, talking or pursuing other hobbies.
One of these, in my own case, is sewing; and here another gadget went by the board. My old Singer, beyond repair, is now an ornamental plant table, and as I cannot afford to replace it I have taken to sewing by hand.
Quelle renaissance] Quite wrongly, I had tended to think with horror of the women who sewed elaborate garments, robes, linen and household items by hand. I thought of those long hours, the strain on the eyes and so on. In fact, the time I now spend placidly stitching is anything but tedious, and the advantages are numerous.
For a start, I can sew and listen to the radio - another rediscovered pleasure - or I can talk with family and friends. If it is a simple task, I can watch the programmes I do want to see on television, and alleviate my puritanical guilt at sitting in front of the box by doing something useful at the same time. And what a lovely, cosy feeling it is to sit by the fire and sew with a pot of tea for company. I am not tied to a noisy, whirring machine, with my head bent and my back turned on the world, and I can take my time over the garment. In any case, I was always slightly alarmed by those electric machines that dash across the fabric towards your fingers. Best of all, I can pop the whole lot into a carrier bag and take it with me wherever I go.
There is a wonderfully soothing quality about executing a craft by hand, a great satisfaction in watching one's work become neater, more assured. I find things get done surprisingly quickly, and the pace of life suddenly slows down to the rhythm of my own hands. I am also freed from one of the most detestable aspects of late-20th century life - the need to rush to finish an activity so that I can rush to the next.
It makes me wonder just what 'time' technology actually gives us. The time to take up more activities for which we must buy more gadgets? If so, hats off to the marketing experts: but I think they are conning us.
There are also implications for the environment. A craft executed by hand uses nothing from the precious power supply being eaten up by our greedy race; the movement of my fingers takes nothing from the national grid and it does not pollute the environment.
The result of all this brooding is that I now prowl the house with a speculative eye. Do we really need the freezer, the microwave oven, that powered lawn mower? Come to think of it, we could save an awful lot of money by doing without electric lights.