A capital loss for the email junkies

16th February 2001 at 00:00
IT is naive to believe the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier. True, if a Victorian gentleman wished an image of his buttocks to appear before friends, he would have first had to arrange for a daguerreotype to be taken on silver plate and then for some messenger boy to hand-deliver it. While the development of fax-copiers has today reduced this complex procedure down to the work of less than a minute, technology has on the whole become so complex that we spend all the time we save hanging on hotlines, trying to work out why the rest of these wonderful gizmos don't work the way they're supposed to.

No, the real function of technology is random social change. Before the photocopier revolution I doubt that people sat around thinking "How on earth can I send Smith a picture of my bottom?" Fax technology created the desire, just as telephone technology seems to have created a desire in my daughters to yell "Wassup?!" very loudly at friends; and the internet has uncovered the desire, latent in every 14-year-old schoolboy, to pretend he i a sexually promiscuous woman and lead men on until they are proposing marriage by email.

But the greatest revolution by far is the one that has recently overcome my father. As a 79-year-old former teacher my dad has, for as long as I can remember, bemoaned bad grammar, sloppy pronunciation and stores like dorothy perkins (which clearly ran out of capitals when it came to designing their logo).

Now, however, since I bought him an emailer, he has learned a lot. Apart from teaching him how to hang on a helpline for hours - and recognise how often "Spring", from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" comes round - the emailer has shown him that on today's micro-keyboards and text phones it is disproportionately difficult to hit the shift key. He can now see that accurate information can be conveyed about aunty hilda whether or not the first letters of her name are capitalised.

Who knows what effect the next generation of gizmos will have? If the emailer can undo a lifetime's self-discipline in my father, I quite dread my next trip to Dixons.

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