Some mornings when I’m on the bus on my way to work I feel like I’m living in the future. I look around me and see people holding digital devices usually not much bigger than a fag packet on which they’re listening to music, reading, playing games, watching videos, browsing the internet, sending emails, probably even blogging and — ugh — Tweeting. They have a dazzling multimedia experience in the palm of their hands while I’m just reading a boring old book and feeling increasingly like an old fogey with my “dead tree product”.
I know men are supposed to wet their pants over the thought of a new gadget but the grumpy contrarian in me is always suspicious of a sheep-like rush toward some shiny new thing (who are these people who camp outside a shop all night just to buy a bloody iPad?) and the current ubiquity of whatever Steve Jobs pulls out of the sleeve of his black roll neck jumper just makes me even less inclined to want one. I work in publishing which, like the music business, is currently being turned upside down by digital technology, working at a traditional print magazine these days is a little like being a Luddite when the mechanical loom was invented as we join the mad frenzy to embrace all these new gadgets. Though I’m rightly skeptical of the idea that a person can be reduced to a “type” or a category, especially by some smart-arse marketing executive, reading some of the character sketches at The Middle Class Handbook I came across a person they call a “Bitter” which captures a lot of my feelings about the “digital revolution”:
They are named after Twitter – a site they particularly hate. Bitters basically feel drowned by the technology everywhere, and yet are niggled by the idea that they ought to be trying to keep up. They were always crap with technology, they loathe any type of user manual, and feel a peculiar mix of resentment, jealousy and hatred when they see people such as the work experience kid clutching their copy of Wired and doing something futuristic on their iPhone.
Secretly, even though half of them do media jobs where it is quite essential the Bitters wish it would just all go away.
I’ve been using a computer to do my job for the past 20 years, know my way around the internets and can design web sites (like this one) so it’s not as if I’m some grandpa who doesn’t know how to program his video recorder (though I am one of those sad bastards who only uses his cell phone to make phone calls) but while I am niggled by the idea that I ought to be keeping up more — at least for the sake of my career — my real problem is that I’m bored by it all and find it impossible to work up any enthusiasm for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Droid, or whatever the “must have” gizmo du jour is. I’ve used an iPad to “read” a magazine and the experience left me completely cold, tapping your fingers on a piece of glass is no substitute for the feel of a piece of paper no matter how many interactive bells and whistles they load it up with. As the legendary art director George Lois recently said in his usual pithy way: “there is a visceral feeling of having that thing in your hands and turning the pages. It’s so different on the screen. It’s the difference between looking at a woman and having sex with her.”
It’s not as if I’m going to quit my job and go work on a farm in Vermont but, yes, I do wish it would all go away. Which is probably what all those typesetters who were put out of work by desktop publishing in the 80s felt, they must have hated young fuckers with Apple Macs like me too.
Download: Computer World – Kraftwerk (mp3)
Buy: “Computer World” (album)
Much as I hate to give The Sun credit for anything, this was pretty funny.