Education: It kept me in the back room till midnight

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The Independent Online
David Pine, 31, an engineer from Castleford, is one of eight "guinea pigs" chosen to take part in a national project run by the computer company Intel to assess the potential for new technology in ordinary people's lives.

I was in the local library when I picked up a copy of the Yorkshire Post as I walked past a table and there was a small advertisement at the bottom of the page. It said: "Interested in joining the computer revolution?" I wrote off and Intel invited me and my son Jason to an interview and they chose us for the guinea pigs programme. About four months later, last April, they installed a computer with a 200MHz Pentium processor, a videophone and all the other equipment free in our home. In return for keeping it for 18 months we had to tell them what we were using it all for and how easy we found it.

A few months before the equipment arrived I did not even know how to load a floppy disc. I had looked in computing magazines and seen the cost of computers but wondered what you would do with them. There are an awful lot of people who spend two or three grand on equipment which just sits in the corner of the room, or gets used as a very expensive word processor. I wanted to get on the technology bandwagon, but I didn't want to fork out to do it.

I also wanted my son to get used to using computers because by the time he leaves school information technology will be even more at the forefront than now.

It is seven months now since we got the equipment and we are beginning to make real use of it. Jason, who is 10, made a poster for my brother's window cleaning business using fancy letters and a rosette, and that has been copied and sent out. We have set up a web page with a photograph of me playing the guitar and details of my interests and my-e-mail address. I have got back into the guitar since I got the computer because I have got some software on how to play. There are CD-Roms showing the chords for Beatles songs, and I got another on jazz guitar, but that is a real cow to play so I will probably be 50 by the time I learn.

Before I came across the guinea pigs programme I had started a City & Guilds course in IT at Leeds College of Technology, and I am now on level three. I use spreadsheets to keep track of my personal finances - I have designed quite a complex programme with cartoons and things dropped into it.

Intel gave us e-mail and Internet access. I have joined e-mail penpal lists and correspond with about five people all over the world. We also have a videophone, but the problem is I hardly know anyone else who has the equipment so there is no one to talk to. I use it sometimes with Ida, who is 69 and on the same programme as me.

I have to admit that when you click with computers it can be addictive. When I first got this I would be in from work, have tea and then be in front of the screen in the back room until almost midnight. My wife hates it - she is just not interested - so I have cut back the time I spend. Now it is an asset to getting things done, not a hindrance.

Interview by Lucy Ward

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