If the telephone rings in our house, I very rarely answer it if I don’t recognise the number, but for some reason I did a couple of weeks ago.
“Hello, is that The Rural Spaceman?” said a gentleman with a rather distinguished voice.
“Y –es,” I replied, cautiously.
“Ah, good. I’m Alan, I’m friends with Tony, he said you would be able to help me,” he continued.
Tony is better known as my father-in-law, father of Lady Barton St Mary and officially known as The Marquess of Prestberries. I had heard The Marquess talk of his golf partner Alan, another man of advancing years.
I wondered how I could be of assistance to Alan. Did he need some help to move some furniture? Did he need to know who was the third person to win £250 000 on Deal or No Deal?
“He’s told me you’re a bit of a dab hand when it comes to computers.”
My brain went a bit numb as I tried to assimilate this rather surprising revelation.
Alan appeared to miss the doubtful tone in my voice.
“You see, I’ve forgotten my password and I can’t get onto my computer. I’m sure someone like you can tell me what to do.”
“Have you got the caps lock on?”
“No. No, I’ve checked that.”
“Then, what we need to do is open your computer in safe mode,” I explained.
“Oh. How do I do that?”
“Well, restart your computer and press F8 before the Windows logo appears…”
Impressed at my cool, calm and professional helpline approach? So was I. Whilst he was talking, I’d typed “Forgotten computer password” into Google on my laptop.
However, the advice I was given on Google didn’t work for Alan. My next attempt using another help website produced similar results. After half an hour, ‘we’ still hadn’t managed to resolve the problem. Alan sighed.
“Well, I wonder how these teenagers manage to hack into everything on the interweb when we can’t even work out how to open my computer,” he mused, which was a very pleasant way of saying I was obviously crap and that I had no idea what I was doing.
“Well, thanks for trying to help,” he said, finishing the call. Trying. Just what my kids used to ask me when they were very young. Not, “Daddy, what are you doing?” but, “Daddy, what are you trying to do?”
I love technology, but have hardly any idea how it all works. It’s still a bit ‘magical’ to me. Remember, I’m from a generation that didn’t grow up with computers in their homes. Computers were large fridge like contraptions that lived in huge rooms and were controlled by massive reel to reel tapes. Watch any British sci –fi TV before 1975 and you’ll see what I mean.
Then there were home computers or ‘desktops,’ then ‘laptops.’ When laptops first appeared, a colleague showed his off proudly.
“I can write all my reports on the train instead of having to stay in the office,” he proudly claimed.
“Yes, but isn’t it like an etch-a-sketch?” I wondered. “Surely if you turn it on its side all the words will fall out.”
He gave a hollow laugh and wandered off. Watching him carry his laptop around in both hands like a dinner plate for a couple of days after our conversation was quite amusing, though.
So, I’m always excited when we buy some state of the art, all singing, all dancing technological gadget, but I am always absolutely sure that, like my brain, I’ll use a very small percentage of what it is capable of doing.
Example 1: The ovens in our kitchen. Read ‘Getting My Oven Licence.’
Example 2: I am very keen on running. I like to know how far I have run and at what pace, so, I own a GPS watch (a Garmin 250 Forerunner, for those of you that care). Apparently, this watch is capable of tracking runs, setting training goals, bleeping when you are running too fast/too slow and mapping where you are. Can I do all this? No. I daren’t fiddle about with it, just in case it doesn’t do what I want it to do, which is tell me how far I’ve run, how long it took me and what pace I ran.
Example 3: My television. This is something that used to have an on/off button and 3 channels. My Samsung 40 inch 3D ‘internet ready freeview all singing all dancing make you a cup of tea’ telly is fantastic to watch. If I could actually figure out what button I had to press on the remote in order to make that happen. I press a button to try and get ‘Deal or No Deal’ and seem to end up with a multi-screen menu of moving pictures from 9 different TV channels.
Shouting “If I wanted a ****ing kaleidoscope I’d have bought one from the pound shop instead of forking out a grand on this …(etc)” usually helps, because a more qualified, experienced support team suddenly appears from the shadows and rectifies things. These beings are identified as teenagers, who spend a lot of time lying down contemplating these situations, which is why they can help. However, this makes me feel like daddy woodentop. Those of you who don’t know, he was a puppet character from the 1960s who wore a white singlet and not much else and had adventures. Google it.
Example 4: Wireless telephones, or mobiles, or cell phones.
“Shall we buy dad an iphone 5?” asks Lady BSM to our children. Much hilarity ensues. At work, people with adenoid(?) phones show me funny jokes and pictures. As soon as they hand me the phone, the screen goes all funny and they get tetchy with me. “No, don’t put your finger there, what have you done?” they ask incredulously. I feel up to date with a Nokia mobile telephone that is in colour. I can send texts and answer phones calls and that. I don’t know how you take a photo with it. Don’t even start me on blueteeth.
Example 5 : The workplace.
Where I work on an (almost) voluntary basis, I obviously have to claim expenses, book training courses, etc.
Years ago, this was achieved by filling out a little green form and taking it to a little green lady in a little green office just by stationery. It took 5 minutes. Now, everything is computerised, so you have to log on if you can remember your password, type in all the relevant details, then press ‘preview’ then get details then save or save and send. Then you have to go to ‘change’, press ‘select all’ press ‘print’ select ‘menu’, then ‘print as page’, then ‘at 95%’ then press ‘print.’ The ‘print’ instruction will check you want double sided, monochrome and staple, including staple position. Once printed, you staple by hand your fuel and expense receipts to the sheet. This takes the average (almost) voluntary worker 20 minutes. Then you have to take it to the little green lady in the little green office just by stationery. Who tells you that it’s wrong, you haven’t printed all of it out.
There you have it. I live in an exciting world of technology that’s full of gadgets and machines and devices that are capable of doing wonderful things. It’s just that I don’t know how to work them, I admit it. Technology has made my life more complicated, not less, just like everybody else.
Think about it. You used to be able to phone a bank and talk to a real person and even get to meet the bank manager. You had an insurance broker who helped you with your car and house insurance. When your children were sick, you phoned the school secretary who passed a message on to the teacher. How long did these telephone calls take? 5 minutes? Have you tried to talk to a financial institution lately? A computer help line?
But here’s the really scary thing I’ve discovered. When all this technology goes wrong, nobody knows how to put it right. They may pretend they know, but in fact they have to rely on the technology we have to repair the same technology that isn’t woking. My pc support for Alan relied on google. As did your research on The Woodentops. I’m sure doctors rely on it for diagnosing illnesses, which is very worrying.
“Well Mr Smith, I’ve ascertained that you have gout, but the good news is I’ve managed to download the new Vaccines album whilst I was browsing.”
Which means that one day nobody will know how to do anything. We will have the ultimate screen freeze. Society’s infrastructure will crack at the seams. The population will find themselves without employment, unable to travel because their computer controlled vehicles are immobilised. The banks and hospitals will be paralysed.
The world as we know it will end. Is there any chance of salvation?
Yes. We can save the world and all of humankind.
Simply switch it all off. Then switch it on again.
Postscript: Suzanne Mulholland. She was the third person to win £250 000 on Deal or No Deal. I know. I Googled it.