Hang ups

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
Every year they confidently promise that next year is really going to be the annus mirabilis. Only the most foolhardy would contemplate facing the trials and tribulations of 1997 without having first made a thorough study of the latest edition of Old Moore's Almanack. It's worth the cover price - a mere Pounds 1 - if only for the advertisements which offer a range of runes, talismans, spells and charms which will guarantee your health and prosperity in the year ahead.

For less than most people squander on an insurance policy, you could equip yourself with a Tibetan Third Eye, a Golden Cross of Fatima, The Life Tube (which contains magic herbs and crystals), a Ju-Ju Wishing Stone and a book of Miracle Mantras.

You can call on the powers of Joan the Wad ("Queen of the Cornish Piskies"), join a coven or, for Pounds 15, buy a Buddha which will "attract GREAT wealth and unbelievable riches to anyone who gently rubs his belly". But what makes the Almanack truly indispensable is the month by month account of next year's news.

Old Moore predicts, among many, many other things, that there will be a revolution in China, a new rocket fuel will be invented, major changes in the school curriculum and, strangest of all, that Charles and Diana will divorce.

He may not be able to keep up with developments at the Palace, but is on safer ground when it comes to IT. He foresees that sales of home computers are "set to go through the roof"; that new inventions will "revolutionise the world of the microchip almost beyond belief"; and that there will be a phenomenal growth in the use of the Internet.

If these predictions sound a tad familiar, it's because they are the very same ones that the movers and shakers in the IT industry routinely make. Every year they confidently promise that next year is really going to be the annus mirabilis. But somehow it never is. Despite the hype, computers seem to have made very little difference to the way most people communicate with each other, educate their children or entertain themselves.

The truth is that these unwieldy PCs that they so desperately want us to buy are too expensive, too difficult to use, too unreliable and don't have an obvious place in our day-to-day lives.

The boffins at Philips, the Dutch electronics giant, are aware of this and so did some soothsaying of their own, with a little bit of help from a team of futurologists, ergonomists, anthropologists, sociologists and similar types. They came up with a wish-list of dozens of high-tech products that people would really like to have in their homes. All their predictions are rather predictable, but still sound quite exciting.

They envisage a world of intelligent garbage cans and interactive table-tops. We'll wear jackets that harness solar power to drive our portable multimedia devices, and play with Ludic Robots - cute little gizmos, programmed to be as unpredictable and as amusing as a dalmatian pup.

Employees at Philips are now being inspired to even greater things by the company's new and messianic mission statement: "Let's make things better. " Of course, it is a slogan that could be adopted by any of the British political parties. They, too, assure us that advances in high-tech will bring nothing but sweetness and light.

Teachers, for instance, are being urged to don rose-tinted spectacles (Philips should market them) and daydream of a time when the information superhighway will have reached every classroom, and every child will have a computer.

In the meantime, most pupils can't even take advantage of the technology that already exists because schools simply don't have the money to pay for it. They could, however, afford to buy a consignment of lucky Buddhas and insist that classes get down to some serious rubbing. It's a long shot, but eminently more sensible than waiting for the politicians to deliver.

* arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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