Screen watching

February 20, 2009

The problem with computer screens is that they are seductive. They provide the user with the illusion of being able to glimpse the world as if through a window, and they glue the eyeballs to them. Whoever coined the term ‘information highway’ (sometimes ‘super-highway’) was on to something; the illusion is of going on a journey without ever leaving one’s seat. They are addictive.

Of course, the word ‘computer’ itself is a bit of a nonsense, since the one thing I don’t do with my computer is compute. I can still do mental arithmetic, and I am probably quicker doing sums in my head than on a calculator (and about as inaccurate on both – yes, it is possible to use a calculator inexpertly). And now of course, the computer is a play-station, an encyclopedia, a television, a radio, a music system and a postal service all wrapped into one – and also, in my case, a place of work.

Still, my current screen is a little small. It isn’t rectangular, which it needs to be, just as old TVs are no good any more unless they are rectangular. I went to see a friend last week who has a colossal screen in front of his computer, and I thought, simultaneously, ‘That looks rather big’ and ‘I wish I had one of those’. I would like to be in on conversations at the development sessions they have in the marketing departments of computers (and mobile phones). I think I originally thought my Amstrad PCW9512 would last forever, and that green screens would be what I was glued to for eternity. But I didn’t reckon on progress, and I didn’t reckon on the cunning of the sales brigades. (‘Why not make the computer double as a gas oven?’ ‘Great – with an electric hob?’ ‘Yes, and a micro-wave.’ ) In a few years time, you will presumably be able to drive a Blackberry, and I am not 100% sure whether this means they will have made the Blackberry bigger, or whether they will have found an electronic means of shrinking any individual for a knockdown price.

I know, too, that computer screens mean I am almost certainly living in a John Wyndham novel, and that one day I will wake up blind, and at the mercy of all those who solemnly stuck with their fountain pens and their Olivettis, as well as triffids, and that I will be nibbed or typed or leaf-lashed to doom. But it is too late for me. That pale cream screen, seducing my eyes and my fingers, has already worked its evil magic on me.

In Catholic cemeteries, especially in France, the dead are commemorated not only by stone, but also, very frequently, by photographic images. Can it be very long before they are commemorated, visitor-centre style, by moving images of the dead (sound optional), waving gaily to you? Or before the graves come with computer screens which enable you to surf through the lives of the departed, or – who knows? – email them in whichever eternity they have elected to serve their afterlife?

Just thinking ahead.