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Hang Ups

Sometimes I get mail from kids telling me they want to be like me when they grow up," says my fellow hack in his weekly column on the IT pages of The Guardian. I've been writing a column for far longer but have to admit that never once has any child or for that matter, any adult or household pet ever expressed the slightest desire to be in any way like me. On the contrary, there are children who eat up their greens, work hard at school and say their prayers devoutly with the express purpose of not growing up to be like me.

The fact that they share my roof - and my genes seems to make them all the more adamant that they look elsewhere for their role model. I honestly don't mind if they try to emulate The Guardian's man.

He does have certain attributes that I lack. Well, Pounds 4.5 billion for a start. The columnist is Bill Gates still only thirtysomething and the richest man in the US. His writing style might not be a patch on mine but he does know a tad more about IT than I do.

Before turning to journalism, he invented BASIC, MS-Dos and Windows. And his company, Microsoft, has sold more than 100 million pieces of software. But Bill still shows no signs of taking it easy. He won't give up his day job until he has created an interface that's so intuitive that it will win over even the most chronic technophobe, and until as he famously once said there "is a PC in every home".

That glorious day is drawing ever nearer. UK retailers predict a 350 per cent increase in computer sales over the next three years. Property developers are aware of the trend. In Ashford Kent, for instance, Rice Homes are building a new housing estate in which network cabling, like the plumbing, is being pre-installed.

Indeed, just as we now expect a new home to have internal sanitation, in future we'll also expect it to be wired up for IT. The PC will be on a par with the WC. Bill Gates will have made computing so intuitively easy, running a program will be as simple as unrolling the Andrex. Once toddlers have been subjected to the high-tech equivalent of potty-training (the sort of thing that happens on school Inset days) they'll dash to the PC whenever they feel the need. (Naturally, they would have to be reminded of the importance of leaving it as they'd wish to find it.) Of course, the old fashioned lavvy and leading-edge IT differ in one important respect: in polite society, people refrain from mentioning the former, but seem to think it's smart to rabbit on interminably about the latter.

Actually, once you've debated the pros and cons of tasteful avocado or a low flush, even if you wanted to, there is not an awful lot more than can be said about the WC. As a subject for conversation, the lowly ballcock is no Pentium chip; the sewerage system doesn't have the tantalising allure of the Internet.

If Bill Gates really could make using the computer as intellectually undemanding as pulling a chain, there would be nothing left to talk or write about. Computer bores would have to stay quiet; the dozens of computer magazines currently on the market would fold; the quality newspapers could devote the pages they now waste on IT to more important matters.

The Guardian would sack Bill Gates, but you wouldn't find me gloating in print because The TES would also have given me the push. I'd have to depend on my ungrateful children to put a roof over my head in my impecunious old age. That's why I keep telling them there are lots of reasons for wanting to grow up to be like Bill Gates; 4.5 billion of them, in fact.

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