Scottish Daily Mail March 10, 2015 Tuesday
Every day I’m fighting a bleeping battle with technology
In the war between man and machine I thought I was doing pretty well. I can set up the Blu-Ray, assist my talking vacuum cleaner when it calls on me to clean its brushes, and know better than to interrupt my TV when it is engaged in the vital business of finding new digital channels, because it will sulk and refuse to tape any more episodes of The Fairy Jobmother.
In my head, I am a modernist. I Tweet, I have a Facebook page so I can see other people’s children dressed as Spongebob Squarepants, I’m aware that “on fleek” is the current youthful word for cool, and plan to score hipster points by dropping this into casual conversation. (“I have just been to the optician and got myself some on fleek new reading specs.”)
Since the 1990s, machines have gone from novelty to essential to obsolete with the speed of an indyref meme. I have a cupboard full of Psions, floppy disc drives, defunct chargers and mobile phone that testify how quickly the must-have technology of 2010 becomes as quaint as a cathode ray TV. To think I was once captivated by these devices: I was like a Damnonii tribesman ogling a mangle.
But there’s one item I cling to: my netbook. It’s almost ten years old, and a more ruthless person would consign its hard drive to the hammer. Windows stopped servicing its Windows XP a few years ago, and its dinkiness ceased to be impressive when the first iPad was launched. Nevertheless, I love my netbook. It has a little keyboard that makes me type like a squirrel, but it has successfully emailed copy from all over the world. Even better: when stuck on trains or airport lounges without wifi, it runs videos without complaint for hours, because its battery has the longevity of a giant tortoise.
However, when I pulled it out recently in a café, I heard an audible “oooh” from the teenagers nearby, and it was not the sort of noise you make when impressed. It is the noise you make when someone produces a quill and parchment. I was caught being outmoded - not just because my netbook was only half their age, but because I was using a laptop at all
People under 25 don’t use laptops and email, they use smartphones and instant messages instead, because phones are small, easy to carry and easy to hide from inquisitive parents and apps like snapchat keep conversations almost untraceable.
This generation navigate phones as if they are hotwired directly to their brains. To them, I am a tableaux vivant of forgotten pre-2000 skills; I know how to programme a VHS tape recorder, I can edit audio tape with a razor. I can spin a CD-rom, and might still instinctively pat a pocket if something made a noise like a pager’s beep.
There’s no shame in ignoring Instagram, or failing to stick a pin in Pinterest. Flickr isn’t conditional to enjoying life, and skipping it may save my already-shredded attention span a further savaging. But it’s also stupid to be snobby about a generation who are excited by these things and embrace the technology. That would be off fleek.
In the first episode of the BBC’s rebooted Poldark, Aidan Turner brooded over his lost love, and was forced to flog his family’s silver candlesticks.
So far, he’s part Mr Darcy, part Heathcliffe and, less romantically, part Cash In The Attic.
I don’t know if you recall the plot of The Wages of Fear, the existential thriller where four men drive two trucks of nitro-glycerine through
the jungle, but I think I understand their sweaty quest for la balance a little better after another year of trying to find a Mother’s Day card that neither suggests my mother was an alcoholic, nor expresses my appreciation of her in terms of such over-the-top sentiment that mum would worry that one, or both of us, had only weeks to live.
Liam Neeson has a very particular set of skills, but his current career seems to have strimmed them down to glumly punching people.
This may not have been the direction we predicted after his Oscar nomination for Schindler’s List, but he’s earned some sort of pass for getting through Star Wars: Episode One without flinching, and doing the bit in Kingdom Of Heaven where his character talks about fighting for two days with an arrow through his testicle as if mentioning an inconvenient heat rash.
Since the success of Taken, he seems to have settled into a groove of films where he strides through towns, sometimes entire countries, as a mature bad-ass. The upcoming Run All Night is the latest of these vehicles, and by this point other venerable stars have been following in his footsteps, including Kevin Costner, Denzel Washington and next week, Sean Penn. Even Colin Firth hit the gym and did his own stunts, rather well, in Kingsman, but Liam owns this genre. With his purposeful mix of sincerity and strength, he’s an invincible icon of dad nobility in corduroy trousers. No wonder middle-class men swoon a bit when he’s on screen. At 63 he has a comforting message for babyboomers: you’ve still got it! You’re not irrelevant! Now try punching a wolf in the face, like Liam does in The Grey.
Goyish: the word for a situation where the nice lady in the Newton Mearns deli thinks you are jewish too, and you are too embarrassed to correct her, and decide to go along with this, even when the conversation turns to the technicalities of Pesach.
If you’re a man in London or New York who travels on the subway, you qualify for a digital version of Candid Camera called TubeCrush.net or SubwayCrush.net, where people are encouraged to snap surreptitious photos of “hunks of the underground” with their phones, then post them online with appreciative comments. The sites have been running since 2011, but generated a fresh wave of interest when a website in China was reported to have lifted and republished the photos, attracting up to 100,000 likes and shares from intrigued chinese women.
There has been some talk of this digital female scrutiny objectifying men, but it’s hardly threatening; the anonymous men can ask for their photos to be removed, but very few do, and the published remarks are all positive. No-one even remarks at the high percentage of open and inviting body language displayed by the subjects seated in subway carriages — which is to say that the majority of them seem about to give birth to giant watermelons.
Other viewers may fret about privacy, but the photographs are taken in a public place, and the sites operate with an awareness of the line between voyeurism and violation. Newer sites are, if anything, even more genteel and circumspect, such as the literary-minded hotdudesreading, which offers studies of men in thrall to paperbacks and Kindles, and feels like the kind of website that mothers would scope out for their single daughters; “He reads! Maybe he’s a lawyer.”
What really puzzles me is that despite the many variations available on this theme, no-one seems to feature the Glasgow underground. What’s the matter? Are there no takers for hotdudeswithfishsuppers?
I’ve just about recovered from a long weekend of poodles with afros and westies with Happy Trotting Paws. Crufts! Where dogs have their tails held up by owners for unknowable reasons, and a flatcoat retriever decides to retrieve its own prize by snatching a rosette from its judge. The four day dogathon was capped by a section where disabled owners discuss how their pet has changed their lives, their dogs gaze up at them with shining, adoring eyes, while I have a micro-greet on the sofa
Waitrose’s free coffee for regular customers now requires an advance flash of their loyalty card before you can punch the self-serve latte button in my local branch. “You wouldn’t believe the abuse that went on before,” said the nice lady handing out paper cups. Such as? “Thermos flasks.”