Some of you may remember the days when watching TV meant only 3 channels, on a set that took 5 minutes to ‘warm up’ and when it turned off, the screen turned black with a bright little dot of light fading rapidly away in the middle. Of course, if you were not fortunate enough to have an arial installed on the roof, much of the evening’s entertainment involved one member of the household wandering around the room holding an indoor arial aloft with people shouting instructions at them, as the picture varied from snow to ghostly images of Eamonn Andrews or Michael Miles, sometimes rotating around as if the image had been replicated on a rolling drum…
This is why TVs had a knob called ‘picture hold’ and another entitled ‘contrast’. It was a real effort to watch anything without compromising picture quality. Of course, come midnight, the telly closed down and told everybody to go to bed. There wasn’t any telly during the day, oh no, only an hour for young children (Watch With Mother) and then off it went again until 4pm.
Similarly, shops closed for lunch and didn’t open on a Sunday. At all. If you wanted to buy something, you had to wait for it. What’s more, you would have to trail around several shops in order to make your purchases.
Amazing, eh kids? By kids, I mean anybody born before Sega and Nintendo. The glorious birth of the digital age, when an incredible thing called ‘the internet’ revolutionised all our lives. Satellite and cables allowed us to watch hundreds of television channels, all airing programmes, day and night. We don’t have to wait to buy the latest record, no, we just ‘go online’ and ‘download’ it. Banks used to be stuffy old buildings where people who left school with more than 5 ‘O’ levels worked. They didn’t open on Saturdays, closed for lunch and all the staff went home at 3.30pm. Now you can access your account or take money out of a hole in the wall at 4 o’clock in the morning, if you want.
Our lives are complete; we are masters of life with a vast army of digital slaves.
Well, we nearly are, I just don’t think we’re quite there yet. But we I mean, of course, me.
Let’s consider the obvious advantages I now have. Yes, my TV no longer makes me dizzy as I wrestle with the picture hold or lose my balance holding the arial above my head on one leg whilst standing on a chair. But when I watch a TV programme on Netflix, I do have to wait to be connected, or, wait for Netflix to ‘warm up’ if you like. I also have to sometimes contend with a frozen picture and a swirly circle (Netflix has considerately introduced a swirly set of coloured balls) which may or may not return to action after a couple of seconds. Waiting for Walter White to finish a line on a particularly slow internet night can be quite frustrating. Digital’s answer to picture hold, as much as fuzziness is the new ‘ghosting’.
Let’s consider the revolution that is shopping online. Imagine that, instead of being on a computer or device, you shopped IRL (In Real Life) in the same way. Here’s a little scenario – I’m entering a shop to buy a product. Let’s pretend it’s a fruit shop, one that specialises in, say, apples. On this particular visit, I’ve been informed I can get a part of an apple for free. Let’s call this an ‘app’.
I open the door.
Ding! (that’s the shop doorbell).
“Hello, I’ve come to get one of your free apps.”
Apple shop assistant: “Certainly sir.”
“Good. Where are they?”
“Just over there,” says the shop assistant, pointing to a large wooden crate full of apps. As I take a step towards the crate, the assistant raises his arm to indicate that I shouldn’t go any further.
“Yes?” I enquire.
“I need your name and password,” he says, smiling.
“But aren’t those apps free? Why do you need my name and password?”
He shrugs, smiles and waits for my details.
I supply him with both. He checks a big black book. A frown passes across his face.
“I’m sorry, that isn’t the password I have,” he explains.
There’s an awkward silence.
“What do I do now?”
He points to a door at the end of the shop. It has ‘forgotten password?’ printed on it. I enter the door to find another apple store salesman standing behind a counter.
“I’ve forgotten my password,” I explain.
“No problem, just give me your user name and I’ll supply you with another. Just go through that door to collect your new password,” he explains helpfully.
I do so and go through the door marked ‘password reset’. Another apple store assistant asks for my new password and I give it to her. She points at another door marked ‘Apple Store’.
I find myself back where I started.
I supply my new password. The apple store assistant frowns again and sends me back to ‘forgotten password’, who send me to ‘password reset’.
‘No. Sorry, that’s not the password that goes with your username,” he explains a second time, guiding me back to ‘forgotten password’.
Frazzled, I stagger out of ‘password reset’ and into the app shop again.
The front of shop assistant smiles at me, but doesn’t appear to recognise me at all.
“Hello. I would like one of those free apps over there,” I explain, pointing at the big wooden crate.
“Certainly sir, can I have your name and password?”
I tell him. He looks in his big book. He frowns.
“I’m sorry, that’s not the password that goes with your username,” he explains.
He stares at me blankly for a couple of seconds.
“Goodbye, sir,” he says.
“You’ve given me the incorrect password three times, which means I can’t serve you for at least 15 minutes,” he tells me, escorting me out of the shop and back onto the street.
With 15 minutes to kill, I decide to go to the new digital bank; all the old ones have been turned into Costa Coffee shops, bars and trendy restaurants.
I enter and approach the teller.
“Hello. I’d just like to check my balance,” I explain.
“No problem,” she tells me, “what’s your username and password?”
I take a deep breath, close my eyes and recite both pieces of information. She checks her big black book before closing it gently.
“Thank you,” she says.
I give her a broad grin, which she returns. She taps her chin with a pencil thoughtfully and looks at me.
“All I need now is the 3rd and 14th letter of your memorable statement…”