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Silver Surfer Articles
19. Living with Technology

The other day I got rid of my old car. All right, I bought a new one! Anyway, the dealer handed me the Road Tax disc and said, “You’ll want to reclaim on this.” I dutifully took it and then thought, “How do I do that?”  Answer go on line and do what I always do – go to Google and type in a few key words and there on screen is the form to be filled in and sent off.  A click of a button and a few seconds later my old colour printer is pumping out the form – and it’s done. How easy was that!

It was at that point I found myself pondering the changing world. I was a fan, I’ve shared before, of Alvin Toffler who gained fame by his book ‘Future Shock’ which, back in the seventies suggested that anyone in the older age bracket would be suffering future shock – the arrival of tomorrow today. He suggested that we have lived through the fastest revolution and change in the whole history of the world. Some of us have coped with that well, and perhaps others not so well.
The ‘not-so-well’ group are the “Don’t talk to me about computers” and as they won’t be reading this article on line, we won’t worry about them. We’ll simply feel smug about the fact that we are Silver Surfers, the older generation who are quite at ease with the Internet. We won’t go into nano-technology – what we don’t know won’t hurt us and we’ll wait for the grand children to educate us in a few years time.

These days though, the information is boundless. Want a plan of Southend hospital to know where to visit someone? Go on line. Want to know size, weight, horsepower etc. of my new car? Go on line. Want to know how to grow sunflowers? Go on line. Want someone to explain chaos theory? Go on line. Want to read Wuthering Heights? Go on line. Want to find out where to get spares for the Hoover? Go on line. Need to fill in a tax form? Go on line. Want to know how many hairdressers there are in this area? Go on line. Want to know the various causes for indigestion? Go on line.

The most important front of screen icon on my computer is my Chrome button – I’m one of those growing number of users who wonder why Internet Explorer is still going or why anyone should bother with Firefox. My Chrome icon takes me to the page almost instantly that shows the my eight most commonly used websites which include, fairly obviously Rochford Life, and Google, but also the BBC (for news and weather) and Amazon (no prizes for guessing where I shop most.) I also subscribe to the Times online so that is there as well. How well informed can you be with those starters!

But it’s not only merely information is it; it’s also doing stuff like paying your Road Tax on line (or getting a refund for it) or buying stuff whether it be Cruise holidays, insurance, books, a new camera, ink cartridges for my printer or who knows what. These days if I need to buy new white goods (fridge, freezer, washing machine etc.) then a trip online is the first step. I may go to a local store to see it in the metal but initially information, and prices are online. Then, and only then, can I go and confront the article in the store. I realised the extent of this the other day when I wanted to quote in an article here information about a book which I had on a bookshelf in the other room. Instead I quickly Googled it and within three seconds had the book and it’s date of publishing (which I wanted). It was faster to do it without leaving my desk than go into another room!!!!

When I used to do economics I remember talk about “elastic demand” which is nothing to do with suspenders but about how fast demand reacts to changes of price. Today we have gone way past that. I sometimes wonder why firms still sell goods expensively when their competitors are so much cheaper. The answer has got to be ignorance by buyers and those particular buyers are probably those who said, “Don’t talk to me about computers!” I know of various shops now who also sell via the Internet to support their shop sales. What I’ve said above explains that. One wonders how few actual retail outlets (shops) there will be of goods that be simply sold by description – white goods, books, music etc. (and that’s without going into the question of whether books and music will continue to be sold as hard copies.

If you really want to get me buzzing then start talking about mobile phone prices and internet provider prices. There are staggeringly low prices out there now. Unless you are a trendy (or business person) you don’t need an iPhone and if you don’t have an iPhone you shouldn’t be paying more than £12 a month with loads of free minutes, texts etc. for you mobile  and you can be getting unlimited Internet for less that £10 a month. You just need to shop around, and that’s what the Internet is for. Isn’t it good living today!

The dictum for being an online purchaser these days seems to be, at least in respect of mobile phones, internet connections etc., “Ask how low they will give it to you, and then shop around.”   Do I keep my house insurance or car insurance with the same insurance company each year? I used to but no longer. The shopping around experience is too easy and the differences quite obvious. I know of someone who, the other day, by shopping around online got one night in a three star hotel including breakfast for two for under twenty pounds (I can’t remember the exact figure but it was a lot less than that).  Somewhere in the area this person wanted, a hotel room obviously had rooms it wanted to sell off quickly.  The information superhighway is clearly the place to be.

It almost seems too mundane to mention now, but a number of years ago I began an interest in art. Within a short while I had an amazing collection of the Great Masters on my computer. Not quite as good as having a print on a wall but pretty good. What is it you want to know? It’s on the Internet and the extent of information is rapidly increasing every day. Want to know about any shop in Rochford and Ashingdon? The basics are on this site with a few exceptions. Time and again my wife says, “What time does..... stay open to?” I reply, “Hold on, I’ll check it on Rochford Life and within second she has her answer.

Of course if I were an iPhone, Blackberry or iPad user, I wouldn’t go near my computer because I’d have that information there. Perhaps that is the reason that we laugh at some of our kids who seem to have their phone welded to their hands. They want to know something? Within seconds they have it. I quite like the ap that allows you to scan the bar code on an item you have and your phone tells you where to get it locally. Where will it stop? I would be a stupid person to make a suggestion.

I’ll finish with a couple of my favourite quotes from the Dictionary of Regrettable Quotation, which are to do with computers:

Quote: “ I think there is a world market for about five computers”
(attributed to the chairman of IBM in 1943)

Quote: “I have travelled the length and breadth of this country, and have talked with the best people in business administration. I can assure you on the highest authority that data processing is a fad and won’t last out the year.”
(a business book editor in 1957)