Someday, my parents will have access to the Internet. That may not seem strange to you, but believe me, it's pretty wild. These are people who still have an extensive collection of beta videotapes, and a player (in working condition) to watch them on. They don't have an 8-track cassette player, but they still have a few tapes, longing for a renaissance of the format. One never knows.
It would be unfair of me to characterise them as total luddites - they do have mastery of both fire and the wheel, after all. But when they've advanced technologically, it has been with reluctance. They own a very old (mono) VHS machine as well as the beta, although they still call upon me to set up timer recording for them. I also managed to force them into buying a CD player some years ago. Every Christmas and birthday gift was a CD, until eventually they had no choice.
They now have two computers in the house: one (very basic) machine they bought (some years ago) on my advice, and one rather more bufty one I passed on to them when it became surplus to my requirements. I understand this places them in one of the higher percentiles among Australian home computer users according to IDC, but it's nothing to crow about. One of the computers only gets used for word processing, and the bufty one is pretty exclusively a games machine.
But I'm confident that, probably quite soon, they will ask me to spec up the more powerful of the computers to access the Internet. How do I know this? I showed it to them. And they were well pleased.
I recently had access to some whizzo new computers and a wireless networking kit, which I assembled at my parents' house because it's bigger than mine. It's difficult to test the range of a wireless network when you're in a two-bedroom flat. Anyway, I set this thing up and then jaunted around the house, upstairs and down, merrily downloading stuff onto a laptop connected to nought but the ether. I sent and received e-mails, watched movie trailers and live, streaming news reports - all from wherever my boot heels happened to be wandering.
In reality, I think this is a silly way to do things. Why anyone would wish to be a strolling Internet minstrel is beyond me, but the sheer mobility of the wireless network impressed my parents in a way I wouldn't have expected. In case I haven't mentioned it before, these people prefer to get cricket coverage on the radio. But wireless Internet struck a nerve. Amidst all the "ooh" and "aah", there was a genuine enthusiasm in what they were seeing.
Now, the amount of souping-up that would have to occur before even the buftier of their computers could be equipped for wireless Internet access is just not feasible. They'd be better off buying a new computer, and they are unlikely to do that (my apologies to anyone who thought they'd get a sales lead out of this). But they keep talking about how neat the Internet looked, and how useful it was. On more than one occasion, they've phoned me to ask if I could look something up for them on the Internet - it's only a matter of time before they see the folly in this.
Maybe I've just been too close to it. Maybe the fact that I've been tinkering with computers since childhood has inured me to the wonderment therein. As I've seen each faltering step along the evolution of streaming video, I see it as pretty cool and I'm impressed that it mostly works now. But maybe someone who hasn't seen it before sees a more revolutionary step. Maybe someone whose primary information source remains the printed word can look at the World Wide Web and see something far more exciting than those of us right up close.
I feel kind of silly about it. I thought that the days in which Internet access was the killer app that would sell a computer all by itself were over. I thought desktop video was well into taking over, and most people who were interested in the Net were on it by now. Colour my face red.
In the meantime, I'm writing this column on the buftier of my parents' computers, at the tail end of a weekend minding their house. In a few words or so, I'll save the column onto a floppy disk and drive over to ARN to deliver it. If my parents remain enamoured of the Net, I may never have to do this again. Fingers crossed.
Matthew JC. Powell denies any involvement in match-fixing. Accusations should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org