Magazine article The Spectator

Exquisite Torture

Magazine article The Spectator

Exquisite Torture

Article excerpt

Consulting my records, as Dr Watson used to say, I find that it was in June 2003 that I first wrote here about the iPod. My former colleague Caspar, now editing the Observer's excellent monthly music magazine, produced the elegant little box of tricks from his pocket and reduced me to a state of drooling jealousy.

The idea of being able to take 10,000 songs with you, wherever you went, easily accessible and in excellent if not quite hi-fi sound quality, all stored in a gizmo the size of a packet of cigarettes, struck me as being as near miraculous as made no difference. But I also knew that such technological bliss was not for me. For the iPod relies on computers to download the music, and computers and I have never really got along.

Back in the mid-Eighties, my wife and I, glumly concluding that we should do something about our computer illiteracy, bought the Ladybird Book of Computers, aimed at children of about eight. We entirely failed to understand any of it. Einstein's Theory of Relativity seemed a doddle in comparison.

In those days I was working for the Stage newspaper, where the edited copy was sent to a firm in Clerkenwell which typeset everything for us, processed the photographs and then stuck it all neatly on to the page. They used computers, of course, but the idea of us journos having to discover the secrets of their arcane trade seemed absurd.

Then the future came knocking at my door. I got a subediting job on Robert Maxwell's ill-fated London Daily News, and realised that the cosy old days of paper, Pritt sticks and en-rules were history. We'd be setting the copy ourselves on a crap computer system that Cap'n Bob had clearly bought on the cheap.

My instructor was Amanda Platell, who went on to become both editor of the Sunday Express and William Hague's more glamorous equivalent of Alastair Campbell. Amanda, then recently arrived from Australia, was, and indeed still is, sharp, sexy and funny, and she scared the living daylights out of me. I lost count of the number of times she called me a 'Limey lame-brain' as I got it wrong, yet again, and computers became synonymous for me with feelings of shame, fear and impotence. Nor was there the technological equivalent of Viagra to cure my electronic dysfunction.

Though I have been using the damn things almost every day ever since, my dread of computers has never entirely left me. …

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