If that sounds like a disease, then maybe it should be classified as one.
I didn’t even have a computer until 2002. I took the plunge, and bought a Dell laptop, with the best specification I could afford at the time. I paid more for an upgrade from a 10gb hard drive, to a 20gb, for 256kb of memory instead of 128kb, and for a Pentium processor, supposedly maximized for laptops. It had a CD drive, but no DVD, and no wireless card, as that would have pushed it past my budget. Even that package cost me an eye-watering £1,500 then, and today I could not even give it away free.
Once I had it set up, I connected it to the dial-up Internet in my flat. That offered the not exactly head-spinning speed of 56kb/s. No option then of broadband, or any faster connection, at prices I could reasonably contemplate; I had to stay wired up, to a very long cable connector. So much for the freedom of a laptop. I started sending e mails, and surfing the ‘net, and it worked fine. Then somebody sent me an e mail with a photo attachment, and I watched as it started to download. After a full fifteen minutes, only the top inch of the large picture was visible, and it was another ten minutes before I could see what it was. If anyone sent more photos, I didn’t even bother to open them. After looking up a hotel, or holiday destination, woe betide I would like to download the brochure, pictures of the resort, or even the price list. Not unless I had a lot of time to spare.
A few painful years passed, and mobile companies introduced the broadband dongle. This small device fitted into a USB port, and replaced the tortoise-like dial-up, with an amazingly fast 3mb/s speed, based on a mobile phone contract, that surprisingly, was reasonably priced. I could hardly believe the difference. E mails flew off in the blink of an eye, photos appeared almost immediately, and web surfing became a pleasurable experience. The laptop, once only used as a last resort, had become invaluable. And even better, with the mobile dongle, I could take it anywhere. Trouble was, the specification was not capable of keeping up with advances in computing. The hard drive wasn’t even full, as I didn’t download music or films, and had never stored that many photos. But the 1.8 MHz processor, and 256kb memory could no longer cut the mustard. No You Tube, forget games, though I didn’t really play them, and before too long, even basic e mail programmes were full of spinning graphics, films clips, and zany advertisements. It was taking so long to load my e mails, I stopped bothering to look at them. I resolved to change it; even though I had paid so much a few years earlier, better ones were selling for less than £500, one third of what it had set me back.
But I knew that I would be moving the following year, and retiring from work. Might as well wait, and get the best one I could afford, in 2012. Not long after the move, I was pleased to have enough room for a desktop system. I prefer a real keyboard, and the tower systems offer better value for money for the newer high-spec computers these days. I went with Windows 7, and got a 500gb hard drive, DVD drive, i3 processor, and 4gb of memory. With a monitor donated by a friend, the whole deal came in at under £475 from Hewlett Packard. This illustrated how much cheaper computing had become, in just ten years. I signed up with BT Broadband, which I connected to the PC by cable, with a wireless option for the mobile phone and for visitors to use; and it came in handy when I got Julie a tablet. Even in rural Norfolk, I get a regular speed of 6-7mb/s, and after two years, I still marvel at the lack of delay, and the ability to use different tabs. I can listen to a song on You Tube, while I am writing about it on my blog, and at the same time, my e mails are updating. To those of you brought up with computers, this all sounds like ‘So what’, but to me, it is as miraculous as the first moving pictures, or that original light bulb.
I started writing the blog, because the computer was so easy to use, and I buy things online for the same reason. I still have lots to learn. I can never seem to be able to ‘find’ files, and have trouble locating downloads. I have stored my photos on Dropbox, but don’t seem to be able to move them anywhere else. Attaching anything to an e mail is still a major undertaking, and familiarity with the equipment has not seemed to increase my knowledge of how to use it effectively. Nonetheless, I can now enjoy computing, at least at the level of my capabilities; blogging, sending reviews to other sites, retrieving information, and being basically computer literate. The Internet has become my friend, and no longer something to avoid, or to be fearful of.
This morning, I went to check my e mails, and have a look at my blog, as I do almost every day now. Firefox took forever to appear. I suspected ‘updates’, but none were notified. When it finally loaded, I typed in the search for my Yahoo mail, and the spinning began. After almost ten minutes, there was no sign of the login page. I asked Julie if her tablet was experiencing similar problems, and she told me that she had uploaded a photo to Facebook, but it had taken a long time. I shut the tab, and typed in my blog address. Another ten minutes, and the blog appeared, minus the header photo and graphics. The computer broadband information declared a ‘very strong’ signal, so I suspected hardware or software malfunction. I did what I always do, shut it down, and walked away. I was confident that it would all be fine when I went back later to check.
It wasn’t. It was the same as before. I had uncomfortable flashbacks to the bad old days of dial-up. I couldn’t check my e mails, because the page is so graphic-heavy, and the ads are all videos, it just would not load correctly. I tried using Microsoft Explorer, in case it was a Firefox fault. I scanned the computer with the anti-virus, worried that some malicious software was attacking. I de-fragged and cleaned up files, but nothing helped. I shut it down again, and gave it one more try, resolving that it would be three goes and out. When it didn’t work, I went into the kitchen and made a late breakfast. I got ready after that, and took Ollie for a very long walk, wondering how I was going to keep in touch with everyone, update my blog, and check my online orders. I had already decided that it couldn’t be my PC, as Julie’s tablet was having the same problem, and both our smartphones were not responding either. I reasoned that I would have to spend ages on the ‘phone to BT tomorrow, trying to get them to sort out my Internet.
Across by the plum orchards, the stumpy trees were full of delicate white blossom. From a distance, they looked like small clouds, hovering six feet above the ground. The fields across Holt Road were shimmering a fluorescent yellow, as far as the eye could see; rape seed in flower. In one prepared field near the pig farm, I spotted at least a dozen rabbits scampering around. Ollie spotted them too, and gave chase enthusiastically. Hearing some squealing, I turned and saw a group of tiny piglets rushing around, playing joyously in the mud, oblivious to their fate. Somehow, the computer problems didn’t seem so important anymore. Life would go on, and it would be like it was before we had laptops and tablets. The world was becoming Internet dependent, and I was not about to let that happen to me.
I didn’t get back until after 5pm. It had been a good walk, over three hours. Before starting dinner, I checked the computer again. It was back to normal. It just needed me to take that walk.