Hang ups

A teacher I know has outgrown her executive's briefcase. She still uses it, but now has to deal with so many bits of paper, that she squashes the over-spill in a couple of Tesco carrier bags. They don't do much for her carefully-cultivated, well-heeled, shoulder-padded image but serve their purpose effectively - or, at least, did until last week.

There was some confusion at the bus queue. When she got home and settled down to school work, she found that all she had to mark was a joint of brisket, a small can of Guinness and a selection of veg. It could have been worse. There must have been some even more distraught person somewhere serving up carbonnade de GCSE course work.

The story struck a chord with me because I, too, am a firm believer in Tesco carrier bags. Indeed, it always amazes me that, despite this being the Information Age, there are still individuals and institutions that haven't caught up with what futurologists, trend-setters and pundits will one day label the Carrier Bag Revolution. Indeed, I've even suggested to Tesco that they should abandon the rigmarole of vouchers and Computers for Schools. What teachers and pupils need is a generous supply of bags.

Forget your megabytes of fiendishly difficult software, and expensive hardware that always goes wrong, Tesco bags are the ultimate data storage and retrieval system. I have dozens in my study, all of them bulging. Every press release, item of junk mail, threat, demand or promise that lands on my desk is Tescoed in nanoseconds. It is wonderfully efficient as I know exactly where any document is.

Being able to find it is another matter. It involves picking bags at random, tipping them up and foraging through the contents. It can occupy the best part of a day - but I've owned user-unfriendly databases that took almost as long. When software slows you down, it is frustrating. Using carrier bags, however, is always a delight, because of those serendipitous discoveries you can make. This morning, for instance, I was searching for some telling statistics on the information explosion. Although I wasn't able to locate them, I did find most of a Wagon Wheel and an un-posted Christmas card that must have been Tescoed in error (sorry, Pippa, Nigel and All at 37).

I wouldn't want to give you the impression that these searches happen every day. If you do adopt the carrier bag approach, what you will find most remarkable is how rarely you ever need to retrieve anything. An avalanche of paper may land on your desk - departmental memos, working papers, and impressive documents intended to prove the writer's skill at DTP rather than to convey information. Don't read them. They cry out to be Tescoed. If anyone has anything important that they really want to tell you, they'll tap you on the shoulder or pick up a telephone.

I might not be able to find the statistics I need, but I do know that the secret of survival in the Information Age has got nothing to do with high-tech wizardry, life-time learning or growing a bigger brain. All you have to know is that most of the information with which you are constantly being bombarded isn't worth the paper that it is written on.

It's this that makes the Internet such a joy to use. You can hunt around in cyberspace for what you need. You won't find Wagon Wheels but there's always a surprise or two.

When you've had enough, you simply disconnect the telephone and it all miraculously disappears. The boffins at Tesco haven't yet found a way of making their bags do that. But I found out what I should do with mine: I'll take them to a bus stop and swap them for something worth having.


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