Hang Ups

23rd December 1994 at 00:00
You've got it! It sits there amid the Christmas wrapping paper a computer that's so big that it must have given Rudolph a hernia, and will have Santa (or somebody) paying monthly instalments until well after the millennium celebrations.

If you are a teacher who only wanted it for your work, you should waste no time in hiding it away with the pile of marking you foolishly brought home for the holiday. If, on the other hand, you are an irredeemable technofreak, you will waste no time in finding room for your latest dream machine alongside all the other purchases you were convinced you couldn't live without.

This year, thousands of people will have been persuaded by unprecedented levels of pre-Christmas advertising to splash out for the first time on a home computer. If you are one of them, how should you spend your Christmas Day?

The first problem is going to be the children. Remind them that you bought this computer exclusively for your own use. It is NOT a toy. If necessary, banish them to another room where they can amuse themselves with their latest Bjork album, andor their new Beano Annual. But before they go, you'd better ask them to plug in all those intimidating cables, install the software, tell you about the mouse and give you a crash course in how to find your way around the desktop.

It will, however, suddenly dawn on you that you've always managed to get along quite happily without having your video collection on a database, or your gas bills on a spreadsheet. You can, if you really think hard, imagine an occasion when having the information at your fingertips could save you valuable seconds. But would it ever be worth the tedious hours it will take to input the data?

It's different for children, of course, who need practice on the kind of package they will be using routinely when they join the working world. Then there's word processing. It does wonders for children's creative writing, but if all you want to write is a thank-you letter to your auntie, you know in your heart-of-hearts that she'd much prefer if it was hand-written.

So you'll decide instead to play a few games. Your children can learn a great deal from them, but do you really want to resist the Rise of the Robots or scramble your brains on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons? You could try running a multimedia encyclopaedia such as Encarta. Even as you gasp in amazement at the graphics and sound, you'll also ask yourself how often you really need to consult an encyclopaedia.

The price of a computer, with all the add-ons necessary to run multimedia, is an awful lot to spend just to solve a nagging crossword clue, or settle the occasional argument. Of course, you'll also appreciate that electronic reference books are likely to be of incalculable educational benefit to your children. So, well before the Queen's Message, you will have resigned yourself to the simple truth that home computers are really for kids. Hand your machine over to them. And if that leaves you at a loose end on Christmas Day, you could always try Bjork and the Beano Annual.

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