I’m often reminded of a comment I came up with during a particularly heated discussion in my younger days: The internet is just a passing phase.
I say younger but I was approaching 50 and modern life was starting to wear me down. People were telling me newspapers were going to be read on tablets, we’d be organising every facet of our life on our phones and at some stage we would all have a chip inserted in our bodies by which we would be identified.
Now, two out of those three things have happened – and I don’t imagine the other is far away. How long will it be before you enter a store only for all the adverts to speak to you personally, like in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report?
Anyhoo. The upshot is the internet is NOT passing and, for all the things it does to make life easier, when it goes wrong we are left completely impotent.
My Sky broadband is a pretty temperamental creature at the best of times. There’s nothing worse when you are doing something your life depends on – like sharing a meme on Twitter – when you suddenly realise your signal has gone.
As a pretty mild-mannered person my reaction is generally to tut quietly to myself, then make a coffee and relax, telling myself it will all be better soon.
Only joking! No my reaction is to shout, scream, blame the world and the wife, then slide the little “wireless” switch up and down manically until I get a reaction. As soon as I let go, however, that nasty X marks the spot emerges again to tell me the connection is broken.
Dilemma. I can either sit there and hold the button in all day while trying to type with one hand – not always easy – or I can take further action.
In my case further action means turning into a latter day Keith Moon of The Who and bashing your computer in the same way he attacked his drum set.
A few well-placed fists and the screen turns into a sea of wavy lines. Try to restart and it asks you to click a button that says “computer repair thyself”. You spend the next eight hours watching a notification which says the work is in progress when, in fact, the stupid machine is as bamboozled as you as to what has gone wrong.
In an age when human beings are surplus to requirements, now and then you find you actually have to leave the house and communicate with another person.
Up the road is a small shop in the middle of a rank of down-at-heel establishments selling chicken and such. It calls itself the Computer Clinic. It is actually the computer equivalent of an over-stretched hospital in a war zone. Dying terminals are stacked floor to ceiling, aged keyboards hanging precariously from shelves, wires like intestines litter the floor waiting to trip you up.
Eventually, once you have negotiated your way through the obstacle course like a contestant on an early episode of the Crystal Maze, you find a human being behind a counter.
“What’s the problem, sir?”
“The computer doesn’t seem to be working.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Well, the connection went down and I gave it a bit of a tap to try to get it working again and the screen went all fuzzy.”
I can see in his eyes that he knows exactly how gentle my “bit of a tap” was.
“Do you want to save all the data?”
“Absolutely, yes. Definitely.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Come back in a few days.”
* * *
So I return a few days later and he hands me the computer. He’s fixed it – and for £40! It is such a bargain I bung him an extra tenner.
I plug it in and it boots up straight away. No fuss at all. It takes seconds. Much better than before… but then, that’s because it doesn’t have any of those lengthy documents, or sizeable picture files or anything like that to worry about. All my data has been removed, contrary to instruction. “Aaaaaaargh!”
He’s changed the soddin’ hard drive and erased years of hard work – not to mention all my favourites, meaning my passwords for everything have gone down with the ship.
The thought dawns on me. My next great novels were on that hard drive! They had been backed up from some software called Scrivener, but unfortunately not saved to the cloud. That’s 160,000 words of two potential best-sellers GONE.
If I really was going to punch the life out of the laptop now is the time. But somehow I restrain myself. Kim Kardashian once claimed to have broken the internet, but it still works despite her best efforts. Maybe I can repair the damage.
I contact the computer butcher (sorry, surgeon) and ask if anything can be saved.
“I couldn’t even start the computer with the old hard drive so I removed it but it is still here,” he says. “I will see if I can salvage anything.”
Hope. An anxious two-day wait follows, then I pop into the shop, my heart in my mouth. “I seem to have saved some things, but not others,” he says.
I check it on screen and, to cut an even longer story short, I am able to save my masterpieces.
This near thousand-word rant is almost a book on its own but it carries a very important message for fellow writers. Always back up your stuff, and don’t treat your laptop like a drum set. Whether you use an external hard drive, dropbox or whatever, the technology is there to save your hard work before disaster strikes.
After all, you don’t want to be caught out like Kim Kardashian and me – with your pants around your ankles.