The Shock of the New

I've just bought a new computer; my fifth in twenty years. Over those two decades, I've had more computers than washing machines. There have only been three of those; two, if I discount the aberration which rattled to a final, stuttering stop literally days after its year-long guarantee had expired. As the local Fixit Man said at the time, “Weel, Missus, ye should nivir niver buy yin o thae washer driers. The mair a machine's supposed tae dae, the mair things'll gan wrang.” You have been warned!

But I'm not here to report on my experiences with the laundry, fascinating though that might be. No, for the moment it's the computer, or to use a more technological expression, the essert, wee bugger. I'm sure I'm not unusual when I say that, of those five, only one worked properly right from the start.

Even my humble Electron, all 32k of it, played up when first switched on. Back in those days a computer was plugged into the nearest telly, no tower, no printer and no scanner. When we'd completed this complicated manoeuvre, a pattern of brilliantly-coloured oblongs appeared on the screen. And that was as far as we got! The whole shebang repacked and returned to the shop within a morning. I won't even attempt an account of the problems we had with programs on its replacement. Most of you wouldn't even understand the process. After all, it involved cassette tapes! Its successor, an Archimedes, however, ran like clockwork. Switch it on, slam in a wee disc. Whirr! Away we went! Ah, Folio and Pipedream. Programs which worked so happily; articles and worksheets saved onto those wee floppies. How antiquated that all seems today. And how straight forward.

Maybe my problems arise because now, I have to use such specialised software? Tripe! Tripe and balderdash! No-one I know, from youthful XBox experts to grizzled ancients who can remember when a mouse was always something the cat dragged in, expects a new machine to work properly on its arrival. And just look what happened with Terminal 5! When I was at yooni, way back in the seventies, all the technology a student needed was a transistor and a cassette player. Not an MP3 player, nor even a Walkman, you understand, but an actual player; wood effect and brushed aluminium, chunky buttons requiring a definite, determined push to be activated. Considered portable, I refer to something the size of a Victorian family Bible and just as heavy. A deaf friend lugged such a machine to lectures, delighted at having an accurate way of acquiring his lecture notes. All such gadgets needed was either a set of batteries or a wall socket within reach of its flex. Plug in, switch on. THAT WAS ALL! The worst that ever happened was a cassette unravelling itself, consigning the latest from the Floyd or T. Rex to oblivion. In which case, you just waited until Tony or Peelie next played them, so you could make another copy. For free.

Aye, who says progress always equates with improvement? Nowadays, before anything, but anything, works, hours have been spent fiddling with buttons and cables, scrolling through menus, phoning help lines which always seem to be at the crackly end of a galaxy far, far away.

© Charlotte Bennie 2008