Brave new world


The personal computer has already changed our lives. But greater change is set to come. If you don’t believe me, then go to the US. That’s what I did recently, and I can tell you, it was a real eye opener.

On Virgin Airlines, the TV that used to reside in the back of the seat on the plane has now been replaced by a fully-fledged computer-based entertainment centre. Now you can choose to watch a movie, or battle your way through hours of Nintendo style entertainment. And if you get fed up with that, you can slide your credit card through the handset, and make someone happy with a phone call. I watched the kids next to me play the games and tried to get some sleep. When I eventually arrived in the US, I stayed with my brother for a few days. At the weekend, we drove to a store to pick up some strings for his son’s Fender Stratocaster. But the store we went to was no ordinary guitar store. This store was called and the manager of the store was amused that we had come in through his doors at all. “We don’t get many customer come in here,” he said. “Most of our business is all done over the Net.” Testifying to this, a large world map showed the places that was doing business. Strings had been shipped from places as far afield as New York and Moscow. We picked up the strings, paid for them and left.

When we got back, my nephew played a few Nirvana tunes on the newly retrofitted Fender before showing me some work he had recently completed for a school project. I was expecting to see some paper and some ink. But I was mistaken. This was a Microsoft Power Point presentation with audio, video and text demonstrating the important events of the sixties. It went on for about five minutes. He had taught himself how to do it.

And so it went on. The next day, he demonstrated how it is possible to download songs from the Internet in the new MP3 format and then play them back on the computer. He showed me a plethora of sites with an enormous number of songs from the Beatles to Blur. If you are willing to wait for half an hour while the songs download, they are yours for free. I’m not sure how legal any of it is, but it undoubtedly will revolutionise the music business as we know it.

Yes, the personal computer and the Internet will change the way we do everything. But it does gets a bit worrying when a teenager knows more about it than you do.