Joan of Arc’s Walkman

Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to the tomorrow’s world that was promised when I was growing up. Raymond Baxter, the lying charlatan bastard, smugly highlighting the Pi function on a pocket calculator the size of a house brick that ran for ten minutes on two dozen triple A batteries with his special pointing pen or talking us through the mind-blowing wonder of Ceefax on a 20 inch tube TV wrapped in a fake teak cabinet, was adamant that there would be uranium-powered hover boots, time machines as common as photo booths so we could slip in and out of history at will during a trip to the shops and that we’d have colonised Mars and be living in aluminium igloos with genetically created pets by now. And perhaps most importantly this morning when I’m tired and hungry and can’t be arsed, that we’d get all the nutrients we needed just by taking a couple of tablets a day. Instead of which I’ve got to wash a fucking pan out. For fuck’s sake. Sometimes it seems that it’s only Complan and McVitie’s low fat Hobnobs that have got their act together and stepped up to the mark.

 

What happened to that brave new world that they said would be ours? What happened to the guarantee of a better, more convenient tomorrow? Where are the disposable, bio-degradable plates? Where are the engines powered by little more than water mixed with a spoonful of miracle crystals that will run for years? Where are the cyber whores and robotic studs from West World who service your every need and then fuck off at the press of a button? Where are the highways in the sky where we can drive across the Atlantic in a bog standard reasonably-priced family flying car and get there in an hour? All these years and what have we got of this tomorrow’s world that’s here and now and available for purchase today? Farah hopsacks with their indestructible fabric from the future and the Pot Noodle. And that’s it. As for the rest, we’re still living in the bloody Dark Ages. All that promise has come to nothing. Tomorrow was the day before. Because I still haven’t seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. I still haven’t got a hologram TV that projects the programme into the middle of my lounge or a teleporter in the space under the stairs. And I still have to squirt Fairy Liquid into a pan and scour the remains of Monday’s Baked Beans from the bottom before I can eat. The boffins have let us down. The future that was supposed to be today looks like yesterday but without the optimism.

 

But perhaps I’m being unfair. Much wants more and all that. Because technology is like adipose tissue; we’re so eager and heedless to consume that we never notice it going on but try getting rid of it and you’ve got sweat, frustration, tears and a nervous breakdown on your hands. For instance, most people are in agreement that Microsoft Word is pretty shit. Most of us use it and, after some deliberation, we all think it’s pants. Let’s face it. It formats things wrongly, none of the commands are where you’d expect them to be, it spazzes up the alignment, it shoves in page breaks when it feels like it and hides text up it digital arse. But it’s familiarity that’s bred such contempt. Because I remember my old Brother typewriter. Complwting a evun a simpel lettre wihtout any spulling mustakes or corections was lick trynig to splot the f&cking atum. And if you wanted a copy of what you’d typed you either had to carbonate it or take a trip to the library to use their Xerox machine with a worn out toner cartridge and stand in line next to some dodgy old fella who was photocopying pictures from The Blue Peter Annual, wondering if you were going to need some more 5ps. And what about if you wanted some big titles? Lining up those letter transfers that you pressed onto the page by rubbing a pencil on them was unbelievably finicky and time consuming. Arrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve rubbed it on too high!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Arrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! some of it’s peeled off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And editing the text of what you’d typed…? Anybody got any Tipp-ex? Some Liquid Paper? So Word, when you think about it, is a revelation. When Word came into my life it was like a Medieval monk spending years illuminating a manuscript to find that he’s spelt a name wrong the whole way through finally being handed Caxton’s printing press. Even with its faults and that smug fucking Paperclip that taps on the screen all the bloody time pointing out that you’re grammars’ shit it’s still one of the most liberating inventions of all time. And what about the internet? Look how that has revolutionized our lives. Forget the shameful trip to the newsagents or Softy’s Hard Stuff and the crafty reach up to the top shelf for your porn, the information Super Highway drives those shaved cheerleaders and horny MILFs up to your house, through the wall and into the lounge like they’re being chauffered in a stretched Rolls Royce with a Jacuzzi in the back by Keith Moon. ‘Ere you go, mate, fill yer boots. Sorry about the window. Technology in the last two decades has changed the world in a way that hasn’t been done since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. I bet there are some old people out there who genuinely think they’re living amongst wizards. That can’t make any sense whatsoever of the world around them. Whose daily life must be like they’ve been beamed onto Bespin’s Cloud City, still clutching a copy of The People’s Friend in one hand and a cup of cocoa in the other. You’re telling me that you have a ‘phone in your pocket?! In your pocket?!!! A ‘phone???!!!!!! In your pocket?????!!!!!!! But where are all the wires?!!! What do you mean that you’ve got ten million songs inside that little shiny white and silver card?! Where’s your Gramophone???!!!!! Just a minute, a ‘phone???!!!!!! In your pocket?????!!!!!!! I tell you, if Boots ever do get a time machine booth don’t wander back to the fourteen hundreds with your iPod on. They’ll fucking burn you. But you don’t even have to go that far back to freak yourself out. Imagine going to sleep in 1980 and waking up today. See the world through those eyes. Eyes that still hadn’t seen the ZX Spectrum or the compact disc or power steering or redtube or Chip and PIN or automatic doors. Then you’d be truly amazed by the everyday life that you now live. Hardly anybody carries cash anymore. We all have TVs the size of billboards. We can have video calls with people at the other side of the world (just ask Leslie Grantham). We all have computers that we book holidays with and buy cars and play games on. We don’t know we’re born. We’ve never had it so good. Illegal downloads, online affairs, easy gambling, parking sensors, bagless vacuum cleaners and remote central locking key fobs. The world is at our finger tips.

But this technological Utopia is perhaps not what it seems. A hidden, nasty truth, like the smiling come-hither euthanasia of Logan’s Run, lurks behind the shiny guile of the iPhone and the omniscience of the work’s Blackberry. We’ve been tricked. Because it’s a corollary of Parkinson’s Law that technology multiplies the amount of work you’re expected to accomplish in a given time. We work the same hours but we do more because of Microsoft Office and the silicone chip. And we are becoming increasingly available. So why can’t you sort out that work email on your day off? Why not put in an unpaid hour at home banging out some more shit? You should be doing six reports an hour instead of one now you’ve got that new software… We are being invidiously wired into the network. We are being made to toil for technology rather than technology making life easier for us. Tomorrow’s world is turning us into slaves to the machines. And this is all Raymond Baxter’s fault. Baxter the false Moses with his pledge of a technological Promised Land. Send Schwarzenegger back through time via the Time Booth™ (right at the back in Boots, near to the home perming kits but before you get to the dispensary) to kill Baxter before he shows us the digital watch and the compact disc player. Before he entices us with the ATM and the barcode. Because all they’ll do is yoke mankind. They’ll turn us into drones for the machines. And we’ll still have to find the time to wash out a fucking pan. Save the world, free humanity, kill Raymond Baxter.

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