Oct 2006 Journal

previous article:Critical Moments
next article:Art Notes (review)

How to be a Technophobic VEP

Let me tell you at once that anything remotely mechanical, technical or scientific terrifies me. Even back in the 1950s, when I was learning to drive a car, I wished the wheel had never been invented. That my marriage survived my L-plated months is nothing short of a miracle.

Yet those were the innocent days, when you could still phone your bank by just dialling a number instead of having to press endless buttons and being exposed relentlessly to taped messages and music between them that I for one would pay not to have to listen to. Sometimes, when I finally hear a human voice, I am dumbstruck. It was also possible then to read a book on a bus in peace without having to listen to one end of a conversation all the way from Marble Arch to Victoria.

Those were the days when I wrote long personal letters by hand and typed others on my little portable Adler Gabriele typewriter, Tipp-Ex, carbon paper and all. And when the most sophisticated item in any office was a telex machine.

They were also the days when I was still young - in my thirties. Not that I am old now. Perish the thought! We are senior citizens, pensioners or the elderly. People like me, who get free TV licences and extra fuel allowance, are delicately referred to as 'the very elderly'. I have gracefully submitted to my status as a VEP - a very elderly person.

A few years ago, when I was already a VEP and still using my little Adler Gabriele typewriter, I got an insane urge to learn to use a computer. My contemporaries, when I mentioned this to them, were largely dismissive. At our age? Whatever for? They wouldn't. Undeterred at least outwardly - inwardly I was quaking - I enrolled for an absolute beginners' course at an adult education centre.

I was lucky with my tutor, a woman as close to being a saint as you can get. She needed all her saintliness and infinite patience to cope with me. Talk about learning difficulties! Thanks to her, I finished that course, and another, and another, until I had acquired some basic knowledge. I could now produce a good-looking letter, I could send e-mails, and I could get information from the internet.

More than a little proud of myself, I acquired a computer. My relationship with my computer is a complex one. My feelings towards it range from smugness - I've just booked myself on Eurostar - to frustration: the printer not only refuses to print, it also refuses to shut down. Documents just disappear, as do e-mails. My computer is capricious and inscrutable and always has the last word. When it sends me incomprehensible messages I just click on OK and hope for the best. One day it went on strike. No amount of clicking would move it. I panicked and, in desperation, unplugged it. When, a day or two later, I logged on apprehensively, it was at its most co-operative. You'd think butter wouldn't melt in its mouth. And just then, the name of a nineteenth-century German writer had escaped me - many names escape me these days. I simply had to know it, there and then. All I could remember was the name of one novel he had written. I went to Google, typed it in, and within seconds I had not only the name of the author, but his biography, a list of his works, and the plot of the novel. Pure magic.

So when in moments of utter exasperation I ask myself, do I really need this? my honest answer has to be yes. Not only can I now be in instant touch by e-mail with my friends and relatives all over the world but, more importantly, I feel I have taken one small step, however tenuous, into the twenty-first century.
Edith Argy

previous article:Critical Moments
next article:Art Notes (review)