Technology rarely impinges on my parent’s lives. They are simple folk who genuinely once thought that Appletiser was alcoholic, leading to breathless concern when I bought a six-pack at the local newsagents when I could barely reach the counter.
You might think that the internet has penetrated every nook and cranny of our society. For the vast majority, this is indeed the case. Only last week at work, a schoolboy who couldn’t be older than thirteen told me about how he moonlights as a ‘brony’, a male fan of kiddywink telly programme ‘My Little Pony’. He described how he frequents brony forums to discuss the equine happenings and horseplay (ba-dum-dum-tish) of talking, multi-coloured ponies with fellow fans.
I am still amazed that whatever fanciful whim you wish to indulge is there, blinking back at you within 0.01272 seconds of a Google search. But I still found it extraordinary that a young lad could unashamedly announce his love for such a feminine show, knowing there are others out there like him. He might have looked like a normal teenager, with a haircut, skinny jeans and a belief he was somehow important. Yet he has managed to find his niche and feels empowered enough to tell relative strangers something so personal that might open him up to ridicule.
Twenty years ago, he’d have had to pretend he liked Transformers or Power Rangers in order to conform with notional perceptions of what masculinity entails, namely blowing shit up and being a badass. For all that the internet has helped young people like him, my family home never went broadband. It hardly even went Nokia. To them, the internet was a mythical hellish place for paedophiles and porn addicts, not the concern of a parochial Amish dwelling like mine.
It’s not just the world wide web, either. It’s all technology. I receive a voicemail from Mum every six months concerning her new phone. “I can’t work this bloody thing” I hear her mutter, before the connection is lost and I can’t get through for weeks, hearing only a feint bleeping noise when I dial her digits. I once had to watch my Mum texting someone, an agony which really shouldn’t be inflicted on anyone without recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. She was stamping each button at a snail’s pace and hadn’t yet worked out how to turn the sound off, so with every thumbed letter came a noise like a baby angrily stamping on a xylophone.
Mum and Dad came home once, proudly announcing they had begun a course in basic computing. “I just Googled for the first time” Dad said, with wide-eyed wonder, as if he’d just been bungee-jumping in New Zealand. “Although I got a bit of a shock when I searched for your brother’s Christmas presents and typed in ‘Action Man’” he continued.
“I bet you did” I replied, while Mum recounted her first Facebook experience, which didn’t seem to go as planned. “Your Auntie Sarah left me a message but I didn’t know how to reply. When I finally worked out what to do our hour was up” she said, unabashed that it took a full sixty minutes to understand the basic principles of Facebook Chat.
When we got Sky+ I spent countless hours trying to teach them about the recording facilities. “All you do is press this big red button and it will record” I’d intone, directing them to the planner where they could watch recorded shows. “Don’t get all technological on me” Mum would say, reaching for her glasses and asking for a step-by-step diagram and a video tutorial.
Half the reason we never had an internet connection was because they had a teenage boy in their house and knew that giving him free license on the internet would only end in more laundry. To be fair, they had a point. The only X-rated material I could get my hands on were those adverts at the back of magazines with a pouting blonde instructing you to dial her chat line. Either that or a painfully slow mobile browser which loaded one page every twenty minutes when it wasn’t raining. There was never enough time to look up anything on a search engine, so I had to type in a guessed website and hope that I’d be directed to the good, proper biological stuff.
Therefore, it was quite a shock when I arrived home for Christmas and discovered they have Wi-Fi. I entered the living room and there it was, atop the cupboard, shimmering away. “How do I connect?” I asked, knowing it was a lost cause. Mum and Dad looked blank, pretending they didn’t hear me. Besides, they were too busy looking for the fast forward button on the DVD remote control, as they were halfway through an episode of Nordic crime drama ‘The Bridge’. Eventually finding it, they skipped too far ahead, leading to more frantic searching for the rewind option. It would have been quicker to hire a film crew and re-enact the final twenty minutes. “You’ll have to wait ‘til your sister gets in” Mum said when pressed, continuing to cook the Christmas dinner by candlelight and washing my clothes in a mangle.
I suppose I have inherited some of their unintentional backwardness. I’m a huge fan of physical products, shelling out thousands of pounds a year for music I can touch, DVDs I can handle, books I can destroy while reading them in the bath. As I said, the internet is a wonderful thing, giving voice to disenfranchised voices the world over but words on a screen, music as binary code, television box sets watched with a tinny set of laptop speakers, are not for me.
When I picture my life in twenty years, my first wish is for an entertainment library, an extravagant room of alphabetically listed CDs and vinyl and a bookshelf overfilling with things I will never read recommended by people with more cultural capital than me. I envisage walking in, surveying the space and declaring “I’ve made it”. The beautiful, nymphomaniac, Latino wife, the perfectly well-adjusted daughter and son, the fulfilling job doing good in the world… they can wait. I want to pluck a dusty old seven-inch single from my shelving unit and play it on a crackly old gramophone.
So I guess I ‘get’ modern technology because it has been part of my life since I remember, bastard Microsoft Word paperclip included. I still yearn for something physical though, instead of a string of computer code. You can see why my parents getting Wi-Fi is such a life re-evaluating moment for me. It was the one place I was sure I could go without the modern world crushing me from all sides. Now even my haven of medieval values has been usurped by the unstoppable forward march of technology, all for the purpose of watching a YouTube video of a funny cat.