The Email Eunuch
22 September 2003
There's a growing army of second-class citizens in our world today. Oppressed, suppressed, and depressed, these creatures are being subjected to unnecessary and often unpalatable treatment at the hands of their self-appointed betters. Their numbers are sufficient for them to have a significant voice, to protest at their subjugation, to rise up and declare their worth; but the continuous sniping has crushed their spirits to the point where they accept their lot as the norm, rather than breaking the artificial bonds of slaver imposed upon them. They need direction; they need a leader. They need me.
Maybe I should go back a bit, let you catch up with my train of thought. We've seen a broad, rapid change in our technological world over my relatively short lifetime, and the whole caboodle shows no signs of slowing - if anything, it appears to be speeding up. And at an alarming rate - while some of us are being left behind.
Just think back with me to the early eighties - to my first memories, in fact. To my first ever trip to a video store, and the overwhelming choice of Betamax and VHS versions of Star Wars. To our ultra-modern VCR with the fuzziest pause, rewind and fast-forward you've ever seen - not to mention the 'remote' control (a lead plugging into the front of the machine, which almost reached as far as the sofa. But not quite, so you still had to get up to do anything). To our Ferguson TV, which had an interesting demi-wood effect (it went nicely with the Morris Minor out front). And greatest of all, to the Dragon32 my father brought home one day, and the joys of arcade games on the cutting edge of technology (encased in a dramatically butterscotch-coloured box. Nice).
Now, in the relative blink of an eye, we have 52-inch plasma TVs, Pentium 4 processors (bling-ding-ding), Tivo and PS2. Crystal-clear, incredibly sophisticated and in lovely chrome.
That's all quite a step in a fifteen-year period. But look how quickly things are moving for the kids today. As far as I can remember, when I started university almost exactly seven years ago only one or two of my peers had mobile phones; email was a revelation to all but the most technologically gifted among us. Communication was by notes left on doors, messages in pigeon-holes - my parents eventually bought me a pager so they could reach me efficiently (and I'd then have to find my way to a payphone to call them back). It sounds like a hassle, but it was sheer bliss - there was no way I could receive an unexpected or awkward call, the only way a romantic encounter could be interrupted was with a vibration on my belt (which normally came as a source of some amusement and not a little pleasure from my partner).
Now think how this goes for the undergraduates starting this week. The vast majority will have mobiles, which over-concerned relatives and accidental shags from freshers' week will be flooding with calls. Even parents will have email, at home and at work, and will send out an emergency search party if a message isn't replied to within twelve hours. Even tutors are probably getting up to speed and asking for essays to be emailed - no more promises that you did put the thesis in their postbox, it must have got lost by the housekeeper, honest. Damn it, they probably call you on your mobile if you don't turn up to a tutorial. Sounds like my idea of hell.
But they don't seem to see it that way. I can imagine turning up to university now as I did all those years ago, sans mobile and clueless on the web, and being a figure of fun. Even having a pay-as-you-go Virgin phone would probably mark you out as some kind of circus freak; nothing but the smallest or most feature-packed phone will pass muster with these techno-fascists. And imagine the ridicule invoked by strolling across the corridor to see who fancies a cup of tea, or heading down the bar to see who's already there, without phoning ahead or sending a group email first (or using ICQ or Messenger or whatever today's equivalent is).
To be brutally honest, most of this new technology isn't just interfering with our right to privacy; it's also completely pointless. Who really needs the internet, when you've got Teletext? With a few presses on your remote control (OK, I'll accept the remote as a necessary innovation) you can bring up all the news that's relevant to your life: 102 for the news headlines, 301 for the sport, 540 for the entertainment, and if you've got an advanced remote with Fastext you can even play Bamboozle. Admittedly, the porn is a little blocky, but you can't have everything. And there's no pop-up windows or spam, and no history folder for the nanny state to see what you've been looking at.
And what about games? Can any of these seventy-three disk RPGs with manuals the size of the Bible really be as fun as playing Chuckie Egg, or five-player Dynablaster? Is motor racing more or less interesting since they robotised the cars? Is war more of a blast now that people don't really get stuck into each other properly?
I am Emily Davison. Mr Phones4U is Germaine Greer. Come with us, proto-feminists. Celebrate your freedom from the technological yokes of modern life. And if I have to run under a Formula One car and gain martyrdom, so be it.