Hang Ups

28th July 1995 at 01:00
Henry VIII would use a personal computer if he were alive today, according to 42 per cent of the British public. They were participating in a unique survey into people's perception of new technology carried out in Britain, France and Germany by software giant Microsoft.

I don't doubt any of the other findings (which could be summed up as "people think computers Are A Good Thing") but I am bothered by this image of the portly figure of Henry hunched over a Tudor wood-beamed VDU. If he were alive today, he would be 448 years of age the time in life, surely, when old dogs, even wily regal ones, shouldn't be expected to learn new tricks. What's more, being king is a job for life so the old rascal would still be on the throne.

That, in itself, isn't a problem: I'm sure he'd make a satisfactory stab at posing for postage stamps and broadcasting a Christmas message. But if he had remained king after 1547, the whole course of British, and world, history would have been significantly different. The Mayflower, for instance, might never have sailed, then there would have been no USA and therefore perish the thought no Bill Gates. He, of course, is not only the undisputed king at Microsoft (and incidentally the richest business person in America), but also the man who created the software which made the revolution in personal computing possible. Without Dos, and later Windows, only a few nerdy whiz kids would ever have had the skills necessary to access a computer's power. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude, if Henry were alive today, he would not be in that elite who could use a PC and nor would the rest of us.

Bill Gates is a man with a mission. His avowed intention is to see a computer in every home and this survey confirms that the public would be only too happy to make his dream come true. If they were given a computer as a present, 76 per cent said they'd learn how to use it. But they are not going to hang around in the hope of Santa delivering a surprise gift. When tempted by a wish list of 10 items, more people said they'd buy a computer within the next year than a satellite dish, mobile phone or other electronic goodies. Nearly half believed that the modern home wasn't complete without a PC and far more were convinced that IT was going to play an increasingly important role in daily life. They seem to have the highest expectations. For instance, 25 per cent think that they're going to be able to use the PC to log their election votes within the next five years; 62 per cent think they'll be able to use it to order a pizza.

The majority of parents, children and teachers agree that computers have a vital role to play in education, and that governments should be doing more to finance IT in schools. Interestingly 81 per cent of British children said that it was their teachers who had taught them most about computers (compared with a crummy 26 per cent in Germany).

In Britain, 40 per cent of the interviewees thought the PC would be (in Microsoftspeak) "the most impactful . . . lifestyle influencer". And they're jolly pleased about it, most of them predicting that high tech is going to make life better. On the other hand, 52 per cent of the French are not looking forward to this brave new world probably they're dismayed at the prospect of having to eat all that takeaway pizza. But women holidaying in France this year might consider packing their portables 22 per cent of the men there regard women who use computers as more attractive than those who don't. That doesn't include the 22 per cent of Frenchmen who confess that they'd sooner be enjoying themselves at the keyboard than spending "intimate time" (Microsoftspeak, I suspect) with a lover. Henry VIII, whose own chequered love life was a decidely impactful life-style influencer, would probably know exactly how they felt.

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