My Digital Generation
Digital – adj. 1: of a circuit or device that represents magnitudes in digits; "digital computer" [ant: a] 2: displaying numbers rather than scale positions; "digital clock"; "digital readout" 3: relating to or performed with the fingers; "digital examination.
I was born in 1970, and thus fall perfectly into the group of people who are now fascinated with modern technology and the seemingly new inventions that hit the world every week. From the iPod to super smart mobile phone, you cannot help but be involved in one way or another. Our lives are dominated by the Internet and the multitude of devices we use to connect to this big beast that sits in the background of everything we do. From every financial transaction we make to playing games in virtual worlds with friends who are not real friends, from downloading the latest music to watching films and TV episodes the day they are released, and most worryingly just surfing for the hell of it because if you dare to touch the Internet you can in theory surf it for the rest of your life and still only see less than 1% of the content held within. You can surf forever and find out whatever you need to know- whether what you see is factual is a different matter.
People like me, born in the 70’s, are mostly married with children with financial stability and thus looking for some new toy to bring excitement to their lives. In the 1970’s, it would have been the latest gardening implement or shed tool that sent pulses racing. I still remember Bill Cosby in The Cosby Show being addicted to buying tools and thinking what a strange thing it was to get excited about…
Today, if it does not light up or do something that makes your eyes open wide it is not worthy of attention. Give me a new spade and I will not be able to hide my disappointment…
The Outside Toilet (1970-1980)
When I was very young, we used to have an outside toilet. I remember being scared that a big spider or rat would come and visit while I was taking care of business, yet at no time did I think it odd that the toilet was in the garden. My brother and I used to have our baths in the kitchen sink and again it all seemed perfectly normal. We used to play in the street because there were hardly any cars. When the man who lived a few doors down picked up the local children to let them sit in the back of his open bed truck while he drove down the hill, no one shouted “paedophile!” at him. It was a glorious experience sitting in the back of that truck, feeling the wind rush through my horribly styled hair at a maximum speed of ten miles an hour.
We all get to an age where we reminisce and start using phrases like ‘the good old days’, but I have never been like that. Health care is better today, communication is much more advanced, and on the whole we in the West have a much better standard of living than we did when I was a small child. Sadly, that standard of living does not apply to the majority of the world but that discussion is for another time.
I remember snow very vividly and being able to build a Dad-sized snowman and then roll his head down the hill just before global warming melted him-- in those days global warming was called the Sun. I have only seen ‘proper’ snow for twice in the past ten years and my children (6 and 10 years old) have only experienced twice not being able to walk properly because the snow is up to their knees. When the white flakes fell, it would mean fun time and the beautiful silence that accompanies a covering of snow. For all of the technology we have today, no one has managed to create a spray that could be painted on roads and pavements to recreate that silence. OK, it is a silly idea and reminds of that phrase “it’s a small world but I wouldn’t want to paint it”, but I would still like to see it.
I have checked with my parents and years back a covering of snow or a deluge of rain did not create mass hysteria the like of which we see today and even the trains ran on time. Maybe it was because most things were mechanical, but for whatever reason the infrastructure that aided life appeared to be more robust that it is today- they say that complexity causes instability so that could be the reason. The other reason we perceive any moderate problem to be a disaster on a scale never seen before is because of the media who love to dress up every minor incident to the point of extreme.
Coming home from school meant eating food that would be frowned upon today- Jam tarts, crisps and whatever else my Mother felt like giving us to keep us quiet. We would sit quietly and wait for The Clangers to arrive on the rented TV (£10 a month if I remember correctly) or maybe even Blue Peter. I have still not met anyone who likes Blue Peter, but for some reason the BBC still airs it to this day. The TV programmes were scheduled and when something big was coming on the family would sit in the living room and keep deathly quiet for an hour while Morecambe and Wise performed their Christmas show. It did not matter that The Yellow Brick Road was shown every year- it was just another part of Christmas for me and life was all the better for it. The rented TV scenario is the most bizarre concept imaginable now in this day of throwaway electronics, but my Mother insisted that we rent in case it broke down- thinking back the TV was probably the most important form of entertainment available, as it is today, but we do not view it with such esteem anymore. Today it is a piece of plastic that displays a picture and is most likely to be changed every year without a second thought yet ironically it is still the centre piece of most living rooms.
The technology in my primary school (St. Luke’s, Winton) consisted of a blackboard in every classroom, blackboard rubbers that had homing beams built in (could hit a child’s head at 200 feet) and I distinctly remember seeing an overhead projector once and thinking I was in an episode of Star Trek. The desks were made of seven hundred year old wood and were a living history of every child that had sat at the same desk before you- compass markings, rude words about teachers, and hard chewing gum were strewn over every part of the desk and it all felt perfectly normal. My desk was my personal space (or ‘patch’ as some would call it) and it became a refuge of tranquillity in an environment that I did not enjoy at all. This mindset of creating a personal space lives on when you leave school and start work. I see many desks at work covered with photographs and personal mementos which I presume are built to add comfort during a time that some do not enjoy.
I had no idea at the time but the world was going mad for technology and in particular space travel (some bloke reportedly went to the moon- no he did, honest). The calculator became affordable enough for most households and it’s sad to say but the most exciting thing that happened to me up to the age of ten was receiving a Bionic Man wrist watch at the age of seven from my Father. It was a huge stainless steel LED digital watch that showed the time in red on a black background. The fact that I was the first person in my primary school to own a digital watch made the excitement even greater. I was the centre of attention for a few days as children surrounded me just to watch the time change to the date when I pressed a button. The feeling never left me and when I walked into my place of work with an iPhone 30 years vanished in a heartbeat as the people crowded around me. I loved that watch so much and to this day am still trying to find one on eBay. After many months of searching, I have still not found one so maybe no one else shared my excitement for that particular item.
The digital watch and pocket calculator were ‘must have’ items if you wanted to be at the cutting edge of technology in the 1970’s and typing 5318008 still makes me laugh today when I turn the calculator upside down. It spells ‘BOOBIES’ by the way- it’s just hilarious isn’t it? There were many other words you could spell such as “ShellOil” that caused smiles in the classroom and it is this simple human interaction with technology that started the digital generation that we know today. Little glimpses of a tiny computer screen had people hooked and as the technology grew so did our desire to try something new. Amazingly, we have not grown out of this habit in 2010. We still hunger for the next big thing. The next big thing rarely does anything better than the previous big thing, but it may have an extra function that serves little purpose. For reasons I cannot fathom, it will sell by the bucket load and I will be one of those people buying it.
From a technology perspective I cannot remember much else happening before I reached ten years of age- a calculator and a watch was about it for me, but my father had a different view on technology. Music was and still is his main passion. He absolutely had to have the latest stereo system and our living room always had one of those old systems with a record player on the right, a radio tuner at the front and a cassette player on the left with two enormous speakers sat in each corner. The sound quality was breathtaking, well that’s how it seemed, and many of my Father’s records were worn out on those machines. Cassettes were frowned upon and my dad used to often say that they were not delivering real music, just poor copies of the original. I must make a point of asking him what he thinks about MP3s, not that he owns any.
He used the cassette player for one weekly task though and that was to record the weekly Top 40 radio show on a Sunday at 7pm. He would then proceed to note down the tracks he had recorded on the cassette’s index card and store them on shelves. At no point in his life since has he played any of those cassettes, but I guess it made him feel good at the time. These cassettes still sit in a room and will forever be an unused archive of what happened in popular music at that time.Maybe I can sell them to a museum, and make enough money to buy another iPod because the battery in mine has given up the ghost.
I remember my Mother buying my Father one of those portable cassette recorders with a handle for his Birthday and we all thought it was the most amazing electrical item to enter our house. We spent days recording TV programmes, music from the Stereo system (even though it already had a cassette recorder in it?) and generally any other audible sound within half a mile of our house. There are two thoughts about this device that strike me today-- you can still buy them brand new and I still have a cassette recording of The Red Hand Gang and Record Breakers on it which are both completely worthless without the picture yet they are the one memento from my single years that I still own. I'm embarrassed to say that I also have a Christmas show by Mike Yarwood on a tape in the loft and his impressions sound even worse today than they ever did. I should say ‘impression’ because he only ever did one and that was rubbish.
The weekly Top 40 was such a big event in the 1970s and 1980s. If your record got into the Top 10 you were a star, if it got to number 1 you were a superstar. Musicians (using the term lightly here) with the limited success of Nick Kershaw, Falco and Strawberry Switchblade would disappear without trace today but if you ask anyone in the UK of my age if they know them they will almost certainly say ‘yes’. You rarely saw an interview with these musicians and only saw them on TV if they were promoting their next record, and this created a shroud of mystery which made them seem even more successful. Today, stars fall over each other to get on to any medium they can and yet few people know who they are or care for that matter.
An aspiring musician will happily appear on a new reality TV show to get some exposure no matter how lame the concept is. “And welcome to Celebrity train your dog to bark! It’s Saturday night and we have a host of well known people and their pets to entertain you for the next 3 hours!!!” A celebrity today is not always a ‘celebrity’- they can be a person who has appeared on a reality show and become a celebrity by simply being alive.
It is a bizarre irony that the mass communications we now live with cause more anonymity than at any other time in history. It is even more ironic that the majority of information we are fed about people has already been manufactured and is rarely a true account of what an individual actually did.
When I was a child, a star was a HUGE star. I hate to mention him twice, but people like Mike Yarwood were immensely popular. It boils down to the fact that entertainment was ‘delivered’ to you at a specific time set by the broadcasters. You did not retrieve it when you wanted like you can now. Video cassettes had not been invented so the TV and radio were everything a child used for entertainment. Radio DJ’s were TV stars even though they only had faces suitable for radio and we were happy being told what to watch and at what time. We had little control over our lives and could have been fed any old rubbish over the airwaves and we believed every word of it. To think that we worry about political control more now than we ever did is ironic. We can see what politicians do now and are aware of the consequences of their actions and this is most likely the route of our hatred towards them. They are no more corrupt than they ever were, just more exposed.
On the subject of entertainment being delivered to people, a trip to the cinema was a major event in a child's life. Memories of waiting in a mile long queue to see Grease haunt me and the queue for the first Superman film was even longer. It didn't matter though because you would have seen the film and could talk about it at school on Monday. There was no way on earth anyone else could have seen it unless they also stood in that same queue. The average cinema would have three screens maximum and they all held hundreds of people which in turn created a believable atmosphere that added to the enjoyment of the film. It seemed that people did not annoy others in the cinema or throw popcorn at each other whereas the slightest noise from a cinema-goer fifty yards away is likely to cause a fight now, in my home town of Crawley anyway. Perhaps people did get annoyed, but I just didn't notice it because being so young, I was probably the one doing the annoying. People also did not notice cigarette smoke back in the 1970's and to this day my favourite cinema in all the world still has ashtrays in the arms of the seats as a permanent reminder of a time when health and safety had not taken over the world…
Cinemas are lifeless sterile places today with countless small screens, a commercialism that runs through every ticket sale and overpriced food order, and let’s not forget the four hours of adverts before you actually get to watch the ninety minute spectacular. I suspect my views of cinemas are somewhat clouded by age because my ten year old son still gets excited by a trip to see the latest Pixar production and he doesn't think the food is overpriced at all. My daughter who is six is very attentive for oh, at least the first four minutes and then she starts to wander around the seats to annoyed glances from people whose children have been trained to sit to attention at all times. If they do dare to stand up the cries of ‘Joshua, sit down now!’ will be all too apparent.
The fact that the latest movies are available to download illegally or to rent from iTunes or your local rental store bypasses him, but for us adults it removes some of the glamour from the movie industry. Don’t get me wrong, a good movie still gets me going and always will, but the quick availability of recent titles removes a little bit of the magic for me.
I see the latest releases in stores and presume that they have all been available electronically since the day of release. I wonder how many children actually think it is normal for people to walk past the film while it is playing. Also, some of the new DVD releases only come in 'special edition' sets and thus cost upwards of £20- this price will no doubt increase as the new formats become common place and my £20 DVD will attain a value of £2 on eBay, if I am lucky. The latest Blue-Ray discs are now retailing for an average of £25 per film where I live and surely they are overpriced compared to the manufacturing costs? They are overpriced in the way that CDs and vinyl records always were but these days we know whereas previously we were oblivious to such things
Scramble (1980 - 1986)
At the age of eleven, I was given a portable record player for my birthday along with Showaddywaddy’s latest single ‘Doo Wah diddy’. It still sits proudly in my house and will forever be one of my most treasured possessions. It started a love of music which I will follow up a little later…
At twelve years old, I received a handheld Scramble game for Christmas. It wasn’t quite the one I wanted which was Invader 1000, a big rocket shaped yellow piece of plastic that had my friends and I excited beyond belief at a Birthday party earlier that year, but it was still a pleasant gift.
Being Christmas, it was naturally very cold but, that did not stop me playing my new present for almost two hours in the garden, despite the fact that it must have seemed rude to my family in the house. My mother came out and sat with me for a while and watched me play and I remember her words “Oh that looks complicated.” It obviously was not, but at the time it was a wonderful toy that was my first source of real addiction.
Computers were starting to cause a buzz with some early models being released on to the market and we even had computer lessons on BBC Micros once a week at school.
The first code everyone learnt goes as follows-
10 Print “My name is Shaun”
20 Go to 10
I remember asking my teacher why I didn’t just type “My name is Shaun” and he looked at me blankly with no answer forthcoming.
Later that year, my Auntie sent us a Pong game that had to be attached to the TV. My brother and I could not believe how good this was. This was a whole new world inside our house and we constantly begged our parents to turn off Mike Yarwood and let us play the game. It was the one with the twisty joystick and even had a gun that you could shoot at the screen to hit the dot. It was all great until the TV screen started to turn yellow. My Dad was less than pleased and swore that ‘we would never play it again’. Despite buckets of tears, that was it for a year or so until the mother of all Christmas presents arrived.
I remember the Christmas in question so well. On Christmas Eve, Shoestring was on TV (the one with the faulty train set that could kill people- it’s true) and my brother and I were so excited by the whole idea of Christmas and the expectancy of what would arrive the next day. Admittedly, it was a totally commercial affair for us and presents meant everything. My Grandparents would often explain the religious side of Christmas and we would sit politely whilst thinking about the expected presents.
As per usual, we woke up at about 4 o’clock in the morning and tried to sneak downstairs. My mother with her natural mother sensor knew what we were doing and after a bit of shouting we retreated to our bedroom and tried to get back to sleep. The process repeated itself three more times until 7 o’clock arrived at which point my parents gave in and walked down the stairs with bleary eyes, struggling to hide their anger.
The offer of breakfast was ignored as we hung over the pile of presents under the tree like hounds cornering a fox. I’m convinced my mother loved every single second of making us wait and the surge of power as her two children salivated over the brightly wrapped boxes.
Eventually, they decided that we could all sit down and open our presents. Breakfast had been consumed in record time and we had gotten dressed in our traditional ‘awful’ Christmas clothes which usually consisted of badly fitting grey trousers and a jumper with a picture of a house on it with a lane coming from the front door down to your genitals.
My father appeared genuinely pleased with his packet of socks and soap on a rope (years of practice I guess), but the music albums from my mother were definitely the highlight for him.
My first present was tiny and consisted of two cassettes, ZX Spectrum games of which one was Match Point. I obviously looked disappointed and my mother said that she thought they could be played on a normal cassette recorder. I managed to hide my feelings and opened a couple more presents- Action Man with snow suit etc. which were all good and then my father brought in a slightly bigger box for my brother and me to open. It was a ZX Spectrum!
You have no idea how exciting one of these computers was at the time. Everyone in school was talking about computers and if you did not have one you could not be part of the geek club, which was strangely cool at the time. Some of the others in school thought computer kids were silly and just concentrated on girls instead. Looking back, I think I took the wrong path, but it was all so exciting and the start of a digital life for many people like me.
My brother and I ran upstairs with the ZX Spectrum and just stared at it- those rubber keys with all the lettering on them were remarkable. If I remember correctly one key had 126 different functions printed on it. There was a cassette recorder that attached to it as well with which you would load the games from.
We were told that we could not play with it until Boxing Day, but we did not care because we had a ZX Spectrum! On Christmas Day afternoon, during The Yellow Brick Road, we were obviously getting board and making enough noise to drown out that very unscary lion that my father relented and told us to go to our bedroom and play. In the room was a portable colour TV! It just got better and better that day. Everyone was happy and this was by far the best Christmas I could remember.
Strangely as the days passed my brother started to lose interest in the computer and it sort of became mine to play with. Even though 22 years have passed since those days no game has come close to Match Point for me. It was just wonderful and I have many good memories of playing it for hours on end when my parents were out. To date I have never played a tennis game that allows you to lob as well as that game could.
I have strong memories of holding the cassette recorder next to the radio to record computer games sent over the airwaves. I still have no idea how it worked, but the strange noises apparently meant something to the ZX Spectrum. I bought magazines with code in them which you copied line for line into the computer and this would then produce a rubbish game or extremely basic application. After you spotted all of your mistakes, which usually meant re-typing it at least five times, the final version would appear on the screen.
“Mum! I have just written a game!”
“Yes, very nice dear. Now do your homework and leave that bloody computer alone! I wish I had never bought it for you blah blah blah…”
The ZX turned me into a geek although none of us knew that geeks existed at the time. When the initial computer craze drifted away with the demise of Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad many people, including myself, simply stopped using a computer and we went back to our analogue lives again.
I don’t remember using a computer any more during this time except during the weekly classes at school, but I didn’t pay much attention and moved away from the geek club and started noticing girl. It was such a shame that I was the fat kid in class so they didn’t notice me. Actually they didn't notice me, but only to laugh at my size.
At the age of fifteen, I started to turn into my Father and found myself filling up music cassettes with the best songs by a particular artist and indexing the inlay cards with great care. I had many albums and cassettes in my collection including hundreds of pounds worth of Queen records, which became thousands of pounds when Freddie Mercury died, and I treated them all like precious works of art (which they were to me). I have never sold a Queen record and never will, but it is sad that they all now sit in a wooden chest and do not see the light of day anymore thanks to the evil iPod! More on that as well later.
My final technological recollection of this era was a Star Writer electronic typewriter which I purchased with money saved from a paper round. This paper round consisted of delivering 250 free newspapers every week for a salary of £2.50 (1 penny per paper). This would be classed as slave labour today, but in 1985 it was perfectly normal to go out in the rain carrying half a ton of paper and have to walk up slippery steps to deliver a badly written and thoroughly uninteresting newspaper. It’s no surprise that they took the paper round off me after I accidentally burnt a week’s worth of papers in the garden and people phoned up complaining. Why did people miss receiving this newspaper? I suspect they didn’t and were just into complaining about everything.
Fortunately, I lost the paper round just after I had saved the required amount of money to buy the typewriter and it was a wonderful tool to work with. My delusions of writing a full length well written novel hit home and I was churning pages of stories and poetry out every single day. I still have them and they are quite appalling. The fact that this machine could print images and logos was intriguing to me and I enjoyed tapping away at the keys and listening to the electronic whirs for a good year or so. Sadly my delusions of good writing have never stopped… as you can no doubt tell if you have struggled to get this far.
By the time, I was leaving school the most sophisticated device I owned was a crap Sony stereo system with buttons that kept falling off or getting jammed. At no point did anyone I know even ponder the fact that copying vinyl to cassette was technically illegal- it was just something you did when someone wanted to hear a new album, but couldn't be bothered to purchase it.
Banks and Psions (1986 - 1994)
Leaving school was difficult for me despite the fact I hated every single moment of it, I left with good grades and decided to go to college to study Architecture. College was an experience very much like school in that I was still called ‘fatty’ every day. Cycling the 12 mile round trip to college and back each day did not loosen any of the fat so the jibes continued. Fortunately, there was only one girl in our group at college and she was more masculine than the rest of us so I didn’t feel too bad. There were other girls at college, but they just didn't look right if you know what I mean. It's hard to explain what makes a girl attractive to a seventeen year old, but any female that talks to you is usually enough.
My next experience with technology was not really a technical instrument, but a Tomos moped (small motorbike) that had a maximum speed of about 24 miles an hour and 2 automatic gears. It was a brand new machine, but you still had to mix the petrol and oil manually before you poured the solution into the mug sized petrol tank. I was really chuffed with the bike and being seventeen years old thought it was ultra cool, so much so that I purchased a leather jacket and motorcycle helmet with flames strewn across it in a way that gave a sense of speed- I’m sure you can imagine what I looked like on it.
It got me to college every day (except for a long steep hill at which point I had to step off and push it) and after about a year it was upgraded to a second-hand Honda 90 which scared the living daylights out of me. It seemed so fast after the Tomos, but I eventually got used to it and stupidly rode it to the insurance company to pay for my first year’s insurance. I had no idea that my back number plate was the wrong colour and that driving so close to the pavement would cause a passing police sergeant to stop his car and speak to me. After about two minutes of seeing through my lies I admitted that I had no insurance…. or MOT… or road tax. You see, I needed the insurance to get the road tax and the insurance company was only five hundred yards away, but he didn’t care. He told me not to ride the bike home and to pick it up later. It got stolen.
I eventually got the bike back but it had been burnt out and effectively destroyed. I paid the £50 to pick it up and to this day it is still in my parent’s back garden. I was later fined £160 and banned from taking to the road for 12 months. To be fair it was initially £100, but I said something like “oh for f*cks sake!” to the judge and they added an extra £60 to the fine (£15 a word- good work if you can get it). The mirror from that moped still comes in handy though- I have little hair left and when it grows it is a shiny grey colour and thus I shave it every week. The mirror is used to make sure I don't miss any bits at the back thus avoiding the chemotherapy look.
I had given up with college and was feeling utterly sorry for myself and approached a work agency in the hope that a company needed a fat bloke. Fortunately Barclays Bank did and I started a week later. It was good work and I enjoyed meeting so many new people. Apologies if this is starting to sound like a CV.
After two weeks in the job, I had a very bad asthma attack and ended up staying in hospital for a month. I could barely walk upstairs and was not a happy bunny. I had fortnightly tests at the hospital to try to improve my situation and the only upside was that I lost three stone in weight in only two months. One night a friend offered me a cigarette and I stupidly took it. I didn’t even like it, but had another and another and took up the habit the next day.
On the next visit to the hospital, my breathing results had doubled and I was told to come back in 6 months. The doctor treating me asked if I had started smoking. I said yes and he just smirked at me, saying nothing. I have not had an asthma attack since, but recognise that I will probably die of lung cancer fairly soon. Ho hum…
I have just remembered that this story is supposed to be about technology... Barclays accepted me back and gave me a permanent job and I went about my business earning real money which was wonderful at that age. Most of it went on clothes that I would not be seen dead in today and alcohol, but everyone should go through that at some stage in my opinion. If you have never woken up next to your own stomach you haven't lived!
The job was quite intense and involved issuing refunds to people who had ‘supposedly’ lost travellers cheques. Most days involved checking a file to see what needed to be completed from the day before and we were literally surrounded by paper files detailing every case we had on the go and all of the completed cases from the past few years- the words ‘fire hazard’ do not cover it.
I sat opposite a lady called Marylyn who smoked about five hundred cigarettes a day and had a voice to prove the point- sort of like Barry White with a sore throat. One day, she brought in a Casio Organiser and showed it to me. I was dumbstruck at how clever this device was and that night dragged my girlfriend to Bournemouth town centre to buy one. £35 later I had my first PDA.
It was remarkable- I spent all night adding telephone numbers, diary entries and cities that I would never visit to the built in world map application. It was my constant companion and I immediately felt more organised and cleverer than those I worked with. I’m fairly convinced I already was, but you would have needed to work there to understand.
The Casio lasted for about six months by which time I was getting bored with it and then something special happened. My girlfriend and I were in a shop called Dixons and I saw a shelf full of these funny looking devices with keyboards and small monochrome screens- Psion 3’s. It was as if they were lit up with heavenly swirling clouds floating above and around them. OK, I’m being silly now, but I remember picking one up so vividly and feeling wonderment at what it could do.
The Psion 3 was not cheap, over £130 if I remember correctly, but I had to have one and at that very moment. My girlfriend was with me and she was not overly impressed, but after somehow finding the money, the following evening was spent adding every bit of information about my life into it and proudly showing my girlfriend after each addition. She quickly became bored with the whole thing, but I was enthralled by the experience.
I proudly showed it off at work and most people were impressed- it’s laughable now, but at the time it was way ahead of anything else we had seen to date. My manager in particular loved the hinge mechanism which was and still is ingenious and despite the fact everyone was mightily impressed no one else bought one while I worked there. Remember this was pre-Internet and also pre-computers for 99% of the population so there was no way to back it up or to synchronise it. None of that mattered at the time because my calendar was electronic as were my contacts and this was the real buzz.
It quickly became a way of life to enter the next day’s tasks, bills to pay and meetings in the Psion every evening ready for the next day and it simply had to be done without fail. I jokingly told my girlfriend that it was the first signs of OCD, but it’s not so funny anymore.
One day I woke up, trod on the Psion and cracked the screen. It was awful and I was completely lost without it. I phoned Psion and told them that my small kitten had trodden on it and they agreed to take the device back and send me a replacement. Psion made supremely intelligent devices, but their support people were obviously rather gullible. Anyway, they bought my excuse and I got it replaced for free so I was happy again, continuing to input as much useless information as I could every day.
My only other experience with technology during this time was an Atari STE which whilst marketed as a computer was really a games machine. Many a night was spent with a few friends playing silly racing games followed by the inevitable arguments afterwards. Now and again I would work out my finances on it or write some poetry, but besides from that it was gaming all the way. The Atari died a death one day and I never replaced it.
My Grandfather also died and I have not managed to replace him either...
He was your typical Scotsman- gruff, opinionated and very intimidating yet he had a soft side which I suspect only his Grandchildren saw. The reason I am mentioning him in this story is because he is an example of what people used to be. Here are just of few of the things he could do 'very' well-
Make concrete and lay a perfectly flat surface in the garden (in one morning).
Make furniture and put up shelves perfectly.
Cut hair- he used to do mine when I was a child and he did the best flat top of anyone I know.
Build a shed- oh yes; he built one himself in about 2 weeks.
Mow the lawn and leave lines in the grass!
Talk endlessly about the war and Scottish football and why the English football team was rubbish. Oh how he wouldn't like to see the Scottish football team at the moment.
He played football at a professional level, as a goalkeeper.
Roll a cigarette with one hand.
He was an inspiration to me and did almost everything himself that we either pay someone to do today or purchase in a flat pack. He took pleasure in building something and knew exactly how good the quality would be.
Have we become nations of suit wearing pretend intellectuals who won't ever get our hands dirty? Yes, but at least we have lots of people moving from poorer countries to do our dirty work for us- such a shame so many people choose to hate them for it.
I am convinced that there are few people around that can do as many practical things as my Granddad could and maybe that is a bad thing, or maybe that is just what happens to races as they grow up.
I liken it to the 'calculator in schools' argument. For sure children could add up, multiply and divide in their heads many years ago much better than they can now, but I bet they cannot use a simple tool to calculate in the trillions. As time moves on perhaps we will no longer need the ability to calculate small numbers, or to calculate numbers at all.
Digitally Assisted (1995 - 2010)
During this time I purchased my first mobile phone. It was known as the Sony Cigarette Packet and had no screen; just one light which changed colour depending on how good the signal was, usually nonexistent in the 90’s. Calls were 50p per minute, the aerial flipped up from the side and I was ribbed continually by colleagues whenever I used it. If I remember correctly the battery life was approximately five minutes.
I plodded on and eventually my girlfriend and I ended up in Redhill, Surrey in new jobs. For some reason, I stopped using the Psion and it found its way to a drawer. I then went to work for a mobile phone company and was introduced to the world of mobile phones properly at just the right time.
It was boom time in the mobile industry and Nokia and Motorola were starting to make phones that actually looked like phones. When the Motorola StarTAC was released we all went crazy for it- it was soooo tiny and possibly the most fashionable item you could own. I played with a StarTAC a few weeks ago and it is huge! It’s strange how our minds remember an item relative to its size at the time.
As work became more intense, I decided that I needed something to keep me organised and moved up to the Psion 3a which was the device that really kicked off my PDA obsession. Absolutely everything was held in this little machine including meeting notes, financial details, diary, games and anything else I could input whether I needed to or not. In fact, it became the main reason my wife and I purchased our first PC.
I remember the day well- after an hour in PC World we spent £1700 on a Pentium P75- if you don’t know what that means the equivalent now is a P3200. It was a joy to use the Internet properly at last although this was via a 14.4k modem (and if you don’t know what this means I now have an 8,000k connection). I only used the PC to download Psion applications and games and to write some letters- £1700 for that?!? It seemed like good value at the time, but very soon that particular PC became obsolete.
As time progressed, so did my fascination with the Psion and I purchased the latest devices the minute they were released. I had the Psion 3, Psion 3a 1MB, Psion 3a 2MB, Psion 3c (without backlight), Psion 3c (with backlight), Psion Sienna, Psion 5, Psion 5mx, Psion Revo, Psion Revo Plus and the Psion 7. This is actually quite sad and the total cost of these devices was approximately £2500. All of these were purchased before eBay was known about and I cannot remember what I did with ‘any’ of these devices. It is a frightening amount of money, but it is an example of how you can get addicted to being organised and thus forget about the money side.
This obsession with PDAs continued after Psion gave up their consumer PDA business and to date I have owned and upgraded through the following devices (take a deep breath):
Cassiopeia Palm III, Palm V, Palm Vx, Handspring Visor Prism, Palm m500, Palm m505, Palm Tungsten, Palm Tungsten 3, Sony Clie N770CU, Sony Clie NR70, Sony Clie NX70, Sony Clie T625, Sony Clie TJ35, Sony Clie NX80, Sony Clie UX50, Sony Clie TH55, Fujitsu Loox 720, i-mate JAM, QTEK S100, i-mate JASJAR, i-mate KJAM, Treo 600, Treo 650, Treo 750v, Nokia E61, HTC TyTN, Sony Ericsson P1i, T-Mobile MDA Mail, BlackBerry Curve 8300, iPhone 2G, Black Bold 9000, iPhone 3G, BlackBerry Curve 8900, BlackBerry Bold 9700, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4.
There have been short periods with other devices as well (at least ten), but I can’t remember their names and feel that you will get bored soon, if you are not already…
I dread to think how much money all of the above lot has cost me and it’s getting me quite depressed the more I think about it. Each upgrade added one or two new features at most and the really sad part is that the Psion 3a did 90% of what my current device does. Why on earth did I upgrade through all of those devices to get to the place I started from???
I will come back to the PDAs later, but during this period there were some big changes in part of the technology industry of which gaming was the second biggest. The original Sony Playstation was a phenomenon and it sold by the million. Everyone I knew owned one and despite the high cost of each game we still bought the latest version of Call of Duty or Pro Evolution Soccer as soon as it came out. This helped to grow the PC gaming industry too and I remember well playing football against my neighbour- our PCs were connected by a cable from my study through a window to his and there was also a baby monitor attached between the two rooms so that we could shout obscenities at each other when someone scored. It was my first experience of playing a computer game against another human being and it felt like Pong all over again.
As the gaming industry grew, so did the hunger for the latest titles- a spawn of dedicated gaming magazines popped up alongside websites devoted to a particular platform or the industry in general. In a strange twist of fate it became acceptable to stay indoors and play games for hours, indeed it actually became cool when up to this point you would have been called a ‘sad loser’ for doing such a thing.
As the computing and Internet industries have boomed people at the head of these markets are revered and even Bill Gates gains lots of respect nowadays. Gaming is cool and so is computing and Apple has had a big influence in making the latter socially acceptable.
The Mac has always been an iconic item and as its popularity waned it became cooler to own one. Apple spotted this and started to build fancy looking machines that stood out in the digital crowd. They have built on this policy and you can now buy a huge range of overpriced accessories that match the look of your laptop or desktop machine. Without doubt the Apple range is cool to look at, but up until recently I was not a big fan. I agree that they are more stable than a Windows machine and much easier to use, but I cannot shake the feeling that graphic designers and people who want something that goes with their expensive suit buy them. I bought an Apple laptop three years ago and loved it for ooh about two days before I realised that it would cost a small fortune to make it do what my PC could. I have heard many stories from Mac users who hate Microsoft and I can sort of understand that, but let’s face it, Apple are no different beneath the surface- they are still a large corporate machine who do what is required to make money. Having said all of that, I have been happily using a Mac Mini for the past 3 months and it is mow my main computer.
Apple also kicked off the biggest phenomenon of recent years. The iPod exploded on to the market and to this date sells like it is made out of gold. The simple design and ease of use works perfectly with iTunes and we now see many first records get to number one in the UK because of download sales alone. Couple this with the demise of Top of the Pops (if you are unaware this was a music show that showed the week’s top tunes and lasted for over forty years) and the music world has changed dramatically. I mentioned earlier that my Father used to religiously record the weekly charts and that it was a weekly event when I was a child. Just waiting to see if Queen had reached number one with their latest record had me quite excited. Maybe it’s the fact that I am now 40 years old, but I have no clue as to what is in the charts now and the only resource I use is iTunes to gauge what is popular. Almost all new music I discover comes through clicking links in iTunes and listening to the 30 second preview clips and this is a real shame. The stars of the Seventies and Eighties would not survive today because marketing is king and you have to put yourself on every medium to make an impact.
There are some big music stars around today, but it is interesting to note that the majority of them are from the pre-iPod era and that there are almost no new superstars popping up. Bands such as The Killers and The Kaiser Chiefs are hugely popular, but we now live in a world where you will probably not have noticed them unless you proactively go out to find new music. I wonder how the average person finds new music to buy. If, for example, they do not listen to the radio or use a PC extensively they will rarely, if ever, be presented with new music. The days of music and the music charts commanding lots of attention in the UK are just about gone and this to me is a big downside of the MP3 era.
As this phenomenon grows, will it eventually turn in on itself and stop new artists from making music? If you cannot market a product to millions of people in one campaign how will people even be aware that the music exists? I guess that record companies now have to look online and to find new ways to promote their acts and one way has been to grow their own acts in front of our eyes and then try to sell them that way- X Factor / American Idol.
Up until a year ago, I was aware of who was big and who wasn’t so it surely can’t all be down to the fact I have reached 40 years of age and want the ‘good old days back’. I find new music by people recommending it to me or by sheer luck. Throughout the past ten years there have been a few artists whose new albums I will religiously purchase- They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, Ween, Leonard Cohen and Violent Femmes. I discovered all of these acts over fifteen years ago and they are still at the top of the tree for me so where are all the new acts that should have surpassed them by now? Time seems to have stood still over the past decade as far as the legendary new acts are concerned. Rod Stewart and other artists of his time are still packing out huge stadiums and selling records by the million and it’s difficult to think of a musician or band who has reached legendary status in the past ten years. Some would say that U2 have became legendary and maybe my own dislike (hatred!) of them stops me from believing that, but I genuinely can think of no-one else who will be known worldwide as we enter 2011, maybe R.E.M.? I guess it could also be argued that you can’t be considered a legend if you are still making music. You need to eat lots of hamburgers and die first.
When I think back to how I discovered the acts I like so much today, I start to wonder if it was all by chance- listening to a new album on some public headphones in HMV, catching a song by a band on a late night TV show or a friend recommending an artist to me. Maybe iTunes and the other digital shops are not holding the music industry back, but actually bringing music to people who would not normally be exposed to hearing something new. It's almost painful to know that my favourite twenty musicians would not be anywhere near my top one hundred if I could magically listen to 'every' song ever made. Obviously that is silly thinking, but who knows, that could be the next great invention- an always online device which can access every song ever made giving the user unlimited choice, or even better a chip in your head that can work out what songs you would like so that you don't waste time shifting through stuff you hate. OK, my imagination is running riot now, but I'm sure they thought the TV and car would never happen as well.
Film has taken longer to become digitalised and only now is there talk of new releases being delivered by file rather than media. DVD’s have taken over from video tape and even the relatively new Blu-Ray format will be considered outdated in the near future with the likes of Sony inventing new formats every two years. The cinematic experience seems to be holding up though and new ones are still being built despite miserable people like me seeing them as a bit lifeless. My son and daughter love a weekend trip to our local Blockbusters (Barbie film for Alice and something deep and meaningful for Tom) and I can even see this form of entertainment disappearing at some stage. Well, Blockbusters has done well to hand on this far. Why will people leave the house in the rain to pay £3 to borrow a film for two nights when they can download a film in two minutes and watch it on their 80 inch hi-definition LCD TV streamed from their super PC in another room? Well, I want to go to a shop and waste money on popcorn and chocolate for my children and I also want to go to a cinema and do the same! At this rate we will NEVER need to leave the house.
In 2010, I can already-
Buy all of my music online and have it delivered in seconds
Buy our weekly food shopping online and have it delivered the next day
Purchase furniture, electronic goods and just about everything else such as DVD’s online
Book our family holiday online although there will then be a need to leave the house to actually go on holiday
Watch TV online and pay to watch live football matches and special events such as music concerts
I still have to visit my doctor if I am sick but an online doctor can’t be any worse than the one I have now who not only has a voice that sounds as if it is coming from another room (i.e. you cannot understand a word he says), but he absolutely hates you diagnosing yourself.
“So, what appears to be the problem?”
“I think I have tonsillitis again…” I have already had it 5 times this year so am aware of what it feels like.
“I will decide that! Tut…”
Looks in mouth.
“You appear to have tonsillitis.”
Well, f*ck me! Just give me the tablets…
He then proceeds to prescribe the same antibiotics I always have and off I go home to moan to my wife for three days about how much it hurts. A recent study showed that the Internet can be just as accurate as a Doctor and in the right circumstances this is most likely true. I think the average person still wants a human being to check them out even if they spend half of their time examining you and the other half consulting a book to make sure they are correct. Imagine the Doctor looking at you and then bringing up Google for a double check- that would be fun.
I admit that using an online doctor is a silly idea, but who knows, it may happen in the future with superb definition web cams and video conferencing. It must be nice for doctors to know that they won’t be replaced any time soon even if some of them need to be…
Anyway, my point is that with the convenience of online purchasing there are too many people in this world, me included, who are tempted by immediate gratification and who will fall into the trap of wanting everything now- having to drive to a shop will seem like such a huge inconvenience soon.
Now I am fairly technically aware and own a Mac Mini, Laptop, PSP, Playstation 2, iPod Video, Wii, DVD recorder and of course a smartphone and these devices have varying degrees of usefulness, and in my opinion they are all positive creations. Where things can start to go wrong is when you let them interfere with your life as I did with each of the PDAs listed earlier.
Chapter Five (back to 2006)
My addiction to PDAs started many years ago and grew as each new device incorporated new features. Cameras were built in followed by video playback and then they became smartphones that could surf the web and retrieve email no matter where you are. Heck, you can even stream radio and TV programmes to them with Wi-Fi or the latest mobile data connections.
When you have a device that can fit in your hand and do the following you start to get unnaturally attached to it-
Contacts, calendar, calculator, alarms, satellite navigation, play music, play movies, display photos and slideshows, play sophisticated games, manage your finances, to-do lists, project management, email, Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, databases, instant messaging, phone calls, text messaging, weather forecasting, read eBooks, world times, currency conversion, voice recording and the list potentially could go on forever.
It’s all so easy to become centralised around this small piece of electronic that sits in your pocket and travels with you everywhere. The more you fill it with information the more you need it and it quickly becomes indispensable to the point that it is the first thing you would grab if your house is on fire. OK, the kids would be first, but the phone would be next just ahead of my wife…
This is all great and can lead to being ultra organised and a feeling of being ahead of the game but the problems start when you come across technical problems- if it crashes and you have a backup of your data it is not the end of your world but it’s rare that tweaking is not required to recover from a bad crash. As you fill your device with more data the chances of a crash increase and thus the vicious circle begins.
You spend hours tweaking it and trying to make it the perfect mini hub for all of the information that you need. Daily checks of the latest software releases result in installing a new application whether it is needed or not. After a few months, your PDA will have 3,250 applications installed and you will only regularly use 3 or 4 of them of which 2 or 3 are built in to the device anyway.
Calendar entries like “put the rubbish out” and “take Tom to school” seem normal even though they are things I should remember because I have a memory, like most human beings. A quick look at the calendar each morning will bring up a list of 34 events and tasks I need to complete. If the day is busy 33 of those events will be moved to the next day to be added to the new entries. It doesn’t take long to have a daily to-do list of 1,245 things to do. Obviously all of this is exaggerated but it is an example of how a person can rely too much on technology and thus cause it to help them achieve the opposite of what they wanted it for in the first place.
This in turn builds up stress and the feeling that the things that need doing will never be completed. At no point do you feel like you are in control, at no point can you relax and at no point are you happy.
I’m not suggesting that the PDA is to blame for this but it contributed to a period in my life where I had an overwhelming need to be in control and have ‘everything’ done ahead of time. It came close to being an obsession that caused other issues that resulted in visits to those people who nod at you and smile meekly as you tell them your problems.
A few sessions talking about myself did not help much at all and after visits to three different people I gave up and decided that it was time to sort my mind out. In the UK it is not something you talk about unlike in the US where a Psychiatrist is seemingly a required fashion accessory. We British do not have problems of the mind! We are stern and nothing can ever trouble us! If you suffer from stress or have depression you are a mental case and weird!!
To be fair some help did come out of talking to people and it made me understand myself a little better but the greatest change came when I decided to take a step back from technology and go back to paper for most of my organisation.
My wife went out for the day with the children a few months ago and instead of spending all day on the computer I decided to think about what I would normally be doing if I was left on my own for a few hours. After some painful thinking, painful because I don’t like thinking about myself, I came up with the following conclusions-
Eighty percent of my organising time was spent inputting data into my PDA
I spent more time writing details of things to do rather than actually doing them
It got too confusing trying to cram my whole life into the palm of my hand
I got stressed out of my head when a crash occurred
The only way out of it was to ditch the PDA and look at paper again as a way to run my life. I managed just fine before I owned my first PDA and billions of other people on this earth manage fine without one as well.
The first thing I did was look at the information I ‘really’ needed and it was not much at all- I didn’t need details of the past years financial transactions, I didn’t need a daily electronic diary of unimportant things that had happened and about 90% of the other stuff I carried was also superfluous.
My life had become one long chain of events either preceded by an alarm or recorded afterwards.
I dug out an old notebook that I purchased a couple of years ago- it was quite expensive at the time and is made of good quality thick leather with strong steel rings to hold the punched paper in. I don’t know why but I have always had a fascination with stationary and can spend hours walking around Staples looking at pens, post-it notes and other items I do not need. Even sadder is the fact that my wife can do the same. Shame our kids haven’t developed the same weird tastes as us because they get bored in Staples within five minutes and start fighting with each other just to make us leave the shop.
Once I had transferred the relevant information into real writing, I set about organising myself with just this book. Strangely, it worked perfectly from day one and I did not forget any meetings, paid all of my bills and completed tasks just as I did before except that I had to use my head, eyes and mind to look at some paper. For a hardened PDA user who needs an alarm to remember to go to the toilet, this was a real shock and there is something enchanting about writing on paper as opposed to typing on a small electronic device. I can read lists of numbers easier in my own writing than on a PC or PDA screen and I find it completely and utterly relaxing after years of pixel staring.
When it comes to writing, this story for example, I still 'have' to use a keyboard because I cannot formulate ideas or read very long texts in normal handwriting. 99% of the articles and reviews I write are done on a Psion Series 7 which is an old machine but it does the job exactly how I want it to and it is the most up to date I want to get at this moment.
I have taken other steps to de-digitalise myself such as watching movies and TV episodes on my TV rather than a PDA or PSP, reading normal books instead of eBooks and listening to music on my stereo system rather than an iPod. It's a futile task because technology marches on and lots of the new gadgets perform very worthwhile tasks and I am sure that I will continue to buy the latest and greatest gadgets if they are worthy of my money.
I sometimes wonder if I have a form of OCD because as soon as an organisational tool is put in front of me I have to organise. I have to organise to the point that I end up organising how I will organise my organisation. I always thought OCD was weird but we all have it to some degree and Jack Nicholson made it kind of cool in 'As Good As It Gets'.
Chapter Six (infinity and beyond)
It's coming up to my favourite time of year as I write this- Christmas. I'm not religious so tend to be a victim purely of the commercialism and the smiles on my children's faces when they open their overly expensive presents which I am fairly convinced they forget the next day. This year my son wants a Lego Death Star II which is a reproduction of the classic Star Wars Death Star built in Lego and which costs £249! This is a LOT of money and my son, Tom, (6 years old) has no idea at all how much money this is but we may well relent- two relatives are going to chip in £50 each to make it a bit more manageable. There is a further problem with this present though- it contains 3,400 pieces- now imagine how long that will take my son and I (me) to build? I'm estimating at least five weeks and most of that will be spent in a cold garage during January with my son putting in the first two or three pieces each evening and then asking me to do the rest because he gets bored easily.
I am genuinely scared at the prospect of this present and wonder if it will cause some kind of mental episode after weeks and weeks of putting Lego pieces together- Lego is supposed to be fun but 3,400 pieces is close to torture. What happens when it then falls off the cupboard and we have to re-build half of it? It takes me an hour to re-build his small Lego police station so lord knows how I will cope with this ball of grey expensive plastic.
My daughter, Alice, (3 years old) wants a Barbie doll and a pushchair for her other doll and that's it. She doesn't understand much yet but 'Barbie' is her current obsession. If Tom eats an apple Alice wants a Barbie apple, if Tom gets a plastic spider free with a comic Alice wants a Barbie spider... A few weeks back my wife and I spent the entire weekend decorating her bedroom- I put together a wardrobe, chest of drawers and a bed and we painted the whole room pink with a Barbie freeze running over the walls. We took her upstairs and showed her the room at which point she said "I want a Dora the Explorer bedroom." Grrrrrrr!
The point I am trying to make is that many parents seem to see Christmas as a chance to spoil their children and not feel so guilty about it. There is always a number one toy for Christmas that some parents will kill to get for their little darling and the marketing is aimed squarely at us all and boy does it work.
I'm sounding old again but lots of children appear to have their parents in their control rather than the other way around. A while back I was in the school playground with my son waiting for school to start and I heard another 6 year old shout "Mummy!" She was talking to someone and asked him to wait. He then shouted "Mummy! I want to talk to you NOW!" She just left the person she was talking to and walked over to him. "What do you want darling?" and then kissed him. If Tom had done that I would have pulled him up by his ears and smacked him all over the playground. If anyone who works in social services is reading this that was a figure of speech. The problem is that I see parents let their kids do bad things every day and I also hear them swearing in front of them. I'm not suggesting that this is a new phenomenon but it is most certainly worse today than it ever was- maybe we are looking at a whole new generation of scumbags to ruin our lives in the future, what fun.
On top of the problems of children being allowed to do whatever they like, materialism is also a lot more prevalent than it ever was. I live in a development of new houses and the amount of snobbery is quite unbelievable in our little community. You matter if you have an expensive car and live in a big house- forget your personality, that is no longer important. Some parents at Tom's school wanted to stop housing association (like state housing) people's children going to his school which is just awful. The children are no different than the other children, better than the spoilt rich brats in most cases, but the judgement is made on how much money the parents have- admittedly this is only one incident but the attitude is not unusual. Our society and culture is allowing the purchase of more material possessions than ever before- you can get a mortgage way above what you can afford, the comparative cost of a car is much less than it has ever been and if you want to get enough debt to bankrupt yourself there are many 'respectable' financial institutions quite happy to help ruin your life for you.
All of the above is leading on to the allure of technology and I am still trying to work out why certain products sell in the million and other better products fall at the first hurdle. The Motorola RAZR was a huge hit because it looked so good and many mobile phones over the past decade or so have caught the public's attention purely because of how they looked. It doesn't matter how well they work- the 17 year old wants something to impress their mates and text silly love messages to their friends. The original example for design over product comes with the VHS vs. Betamax war and you will be aware that VHS won even though it was bigger, of poorer quality and generally a pain to use. It was the marketing that won and brought the owner’s millions and millions of profit and the losers nothing. Looks obviously had nothing to do with VHS winning the war but the average punter today requires looks above anything else in their electronic devices. From the iPod to the LG Chocolate mobile phone both will sell for their looks and no other reason. The iPod is great but there are now better MP3 players on the market, at least ones that do a lot more, but the iconic status it holds will give it a huge advantage for years to come.
This lusting for the look of technology could be one small part of the growing trend in people running up huge amounts of debt- the days when a car was your second largest purchase have long gone and it is now normal to buy a new car on credit. When I was young you would buy a car and run it into the ground, fixing it yourself, until something major finally gave in like the engine. It seemed that every week my Granddad was tinkering with his car and fixing bits here and there. He would take the family out on Sundays, because my parents did not own a car (something to do with my Dad's eyes and my mother being a woman- her words, not mine), and on countless occasions he would stop and help some poor broken down motorist with his mechanical problem. People like my Granddad were put on this earth to help the rest of us. If we see a broken down car now we just curse the motorist for causing a traffic jam and the thought of helping them would not even enter most people's minds. To be fair that is probably because you need a £10,000 computer to change a spark plug these days and not many people carry them in their cars, unless they stole it earlier in the day.
It is not uncommon for people to buy a new car every year just to have the latest number plate and I remember a few years back a neighbour exclaiming how our car was the oldest one in the street and that maybe it was time to change it- it was 14 months old. If a car is not greeted with huge excitement any more than a 46" LCD TV, £400 mobile phone or new £1000 PC is hardly going to draw any attention. The problem is not the gadgets themselves but the way in which we can buy them- I have been a victim of this and I am still trying to get the process of buying something I want when I can afford it into my head. I can walk into an electrical shop tomorrow and buy £15,000 worth of appliances in 20 minutes. This is great in a perverse kind of way but it does take away most of the buzz you get when spending money on an expensive new item because in a matter of hours you are thinking about the next toy. This process feeds the industry and the obvious example is the mobile phone market- lots of people still change phones at the end of their contract but many simply have to have the latest design even if it means buying it out of contract and spending hundreds of pounds.
So, where are we heading? If I could tell you accurately I would not be writing this book but would be a multi billionaire. A pessimist would say that we are losing the ability to communicate and socialise, we are losing our core values (horrible American phrase but true), our priorities are all wrong and we are doing nothing to help those less fortunate than ourselves. An optimist would say that medical science is better than ever before, more people have a good standard of living than ever before and that we are marching forward to a new exciting age. I tend to look at the first view and as a natural pessimist see that as the most positive way forward. I believe that we communicate with more people every day now than we ever have but in a less personal way.
Through my web sites and work I can communicate with over fifty people in a day without actually speaking to any of them. This communication is effective and more efficient than a normal conversation. When I talk to people a lot of the conversation can be spent on trivial matters and having a laugh and this can get lost in digital conversation via email and instant messaging. It can be advantageous for a business (if people stopped surfing the web and sending joke emails for most of the day) but not for the individual. The more we get used to communicating using a screen the less we will feel comfortable communicating face to face. I have in previous jobs dealt with many people who are brilliant at programming and systems coding but put them in a room and ask them a question in English and they look at you as though you are retarded. You cannot explain what you want a system to do i.e. "We need it to accept the email and deliver it to each agent depending on their skill level." The answer will be something like "Um... but what sub-set do you want to use for the algorithm?" “You what?” followed by puzzled look. It’s a small example of an individual who has been affected by the digital age. I cannot work out what he would have been called years ago but today the word 'geek' is very common- I should know because I get called one every day and I can't even program one line of code.
This digital communication is not the cause but highlights another issue and that is a growing lack of grammar in the current generation. Text messaging doesn't really bother me and words like gr8 (great) make me laugh but when I see these contractions in emails it really annoys me- I admit to overusing smileys and can feel them creeping into my personal dictionary but I do draw the line at gr8. Contractions are not the main problem though- every day I receive emails from people who simply cannot write properly and the authors tend to be under 20 years of age. How on earth did they manage to leave school without the ability to string a sentence together? They probably could write perfectly when they left school but laziness may have set in when it comes to writing emails.
A friend of mine who I know through my web sites called Wallace is over seventy years old and never uses capitals or punctuation in his emails. I find this quite odd and I bet when he writes 'paper and pen' letters they have full punctuation. If I am in a meeting all of my notes have punctuation and capitals and even my date book entries on a PDA have to be perfectly punctuated. OK, I'm a bit anal with the English language and I bet it doesn't show in this book but trust me I am. So, if you want to email me use proper English and punctuation, unless your name is Wally because he is one of the few people who can carry it off with ease and still be heard.
Will this digital communication increase over the next few years? Yes. Video conferencing can replace meetings, voice conference calls can replace video conferencing, Net Meetings can replace voice conference calls and emails can replace the lot. I know a few people who do not like to communicate by phone anymore and send emails for every request they make- a real shame because most of these people are highly communicative but they still seem to hide behind the smiley...
During the writing of this small book I have fallen off the paper trail again and am looking back to PDAs to handle my organisational needs. Missing some meetings and conference calls brought home the fact that I am a lost cause when it comes to analogue organisation. I will continue to walk around with a mobile phone and PDA, getting strange looks from some people, and will no doubt continue to look for new machines to replace the ones that serve me perfectly well. My iPod will get smaller, my GPS smarter and my personal details will be spread farther than they ever should be- anonymity is a very hard place to find in 2006 and it will no doubt become more remote as each year passes by.
Not for one minute do I believe that the pace of technological change should slow down and the benefits will almost certainly outweigh the negatives- maybe I have become a miserable old git before my time? My balding, greying hair and expanding stomach must be affecting my mind and making me see everything in the past in a much more positive light than it was in reality.
I cannot hide from the world anymore and countless organisations have my details recorded on their computers, but at least I don’t have to worry about spiders when going to the toilet.
If you would like to offer feedback on this book please send an email to shaun (at) mailstm.co.uk
Edited by Amy R. Zunk
Cover Design by kidd design