Help! My life has been revolutionised

How have I acquired so many machines in such a short space of time - and all out of date?

Hunter Davies
Sunday 29 August 1999 23:02

DAVID AARONOVITCH, on these pages, was going on about the importance of knowledge in this modern world. How very true. We do now have instant communication, everywhere astounding IT technology. He wrote that "a revolution is taking place every bit as big as the Industrial Revolution."

He's a younger person, and only knows about the Industrial Revolution from what he's read. I was there, old son. I can clearly remember millions flooding from the fields into the factories. And I was there in Darlington on 27 September 1825 - one of 12,000 come to gape when the world's train arrived. I had a word with George Stephenson afterwards. He was well chuffed.

Now, that was a revolution, Dave. Until that day, the world had moved at the speed of the fastest horse. From then on, nothing was ever the same again. Trains created suburbs, because people could commute. People ate differently, because fresh vegetables arrived in towns. Letters were delivered overnight. How and where people lived and worked was totally changed.

I am looking round my office now, where I live and work, to see how the modern revolution has changed me. I have a quite a lot of this IT stuff. And I love it, oh yes. My word processor is brilliant, being able to move words around, start in the middle and move either way, then print it out myself. Gawd, the years I struggled to re-type, or hired housewives to do it for me. It's great having my Canon photocopier and my Sharp fax machine, both ever so handy, and my Ericsson mobile phone. I haven't used it for two months, and still can't work out how to retrieve messages, but it's nice to know it's there, wherever it is. Oh yes, in the bottom of the drawer.

My Sky digital interactive tele thing has made me the envy of everyone around. OK, all I can see is sheep, but they are well impressed. I might not have a computer, but my TV will take mail in a month and I'll be able to shop and bank from home.

My poor wife, what a Luddite, she's still using pen and ink. How she smirks when we get electricity cuts, as we often do in Lakeland. She carries on working while I scream and shout, but come on woman, get real, there's been a revolution, innit.

Funny, though, how Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey managed when they lived up here, getting books and stuff published, without any IT wonders to help them. Southey did endless hackwork for the London mags. Hardly missed a deadline. RL Stevenson, when in the back of beyond in Samoa, still kept up a constant flow of words which got printed in London.

I managed for years, when out of town, by posting copy to Fleet Street, though it wasn't very reliable. They were luckier in ye olden days. Elizabeth Barrett Browning could post a letter to Robert in the morning, get a reply by lunch, write to him again, and get a reply by tea time.

They could have done with one invention, now a 100 years old, giving instant access from anywhere in the world, which for decades has allowed hacks to file copy instantly - the telephone.

When I look around the modern world, I can't actually see how subsequent inventions have changed things greatly since the telephone. The means of communications have changed. What can be carried, found, stored, used is amazing. But it's only as good as what's been put in. The content has hardly changed, only the packaging. Good for speed, brilliant for toy playing. Billions have been made. New services and industries created. But have lives been really, truly changed by IT?

I can't see it myself, except when I go out of this room and into the back room. I usually avoid it, as I have to stagger over the dead bodies. How can I have acquired four old telephones, three types of printer, two primitive fax machines, one word processor, piles of tapes and discs, in such a short span of time - and all of it out of date? Some went out of date the moment I got it home from Dixons.

Oh no, and there's the box, dish and stuff from the ancient analogue TV the bloke didn't take away last week. In cupboards, stashed away. I have tons of computer paper and software and stuff, bought at vast expense, for systems I no longer use. No longer can use, because the buggers went and changed everything.

This is the real revolution of our times. It's called obsolescence. They build it in, so the modern IT industry sustains itself. Once you join in that's it, you've been conned and can't get out. So yes, it has revolutionised my life. I now have one room I can't use.

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