When the PC has flown the nest

It was with the heaviest of hearts that I bade farewell to my son on the day he left for his first term at university. Other parents have described far more eloquently than I ever could that awful feeling of emptiness; somehow, it's as if you have lost part of yourself. They, of course, tend to be grieving because the child has left home; what bothers me is that mine has taken my notebook computer with him. He will need it at university, his mother said.

It wasn't like that when I was a student. All I took with me were my Donovan records, my tank-tops and a biscuit tin of my mam's Welsh cakes. In those halcyon days - the Paris riots, LSE sit-ins, Woodstock and beer at 1s 9d a pint - the lecturers, all too aware that they were the lackeys of capitalism, rarely dared to set essays. If they did, we used a Biro to scribble down our pensees - often in the form of experimental verse. But, as Bob Dylan so clearly foresaw, the times they did indeed a-change - with a-vengeance.

The university is now a world of modules, credits, semesters, student loans and Jeremy Paxman asking the starters for 10. For reasons which those of us educated in the Sixties cannot comprehend, students actually study. They write essays - regularly. What's worse, a new generation of lecturers expects those essays to be word processed and laser-sharp. A growing number of university courses put the onus on students to search CD-Roms and the World Wide Web for information. Some faculties even use computer-aided learning packages to deliver parts of the syllabus. Modern students, it seems, are at a serious disadvantage if they don't have easy access to a computer. That's what his mother said.

I don't mind the lad taking one of my computers - I would have been happy for him to take the hardware that I am using to write this. As well as the processor, there is an additional external hard disc, an external CD-Rom drive, a bulky modem, a laser printer of hernia-inducing proportions, and an extended keyboard. The monitor is bigger than the one on which the entire membership of the students' union used to watch Dr Who in those carefree black and white days when everybody wore John Lennon specs and rolled their own. The whole outfit hardly weighs more than a hundredweight or so, but - as his mother points out - if he were to install it at his hall of residence, there wouldn't be enough room for luxuries, such as a bed.

So instead, with one of those snazzy little bubblejets, and a modem the size of a cigarette packet, he has a powerful computer system - all of which could fit comfortably into the biscuit tin in which I used to carry cakes.

The argument in favour of students owning notebooks is equally valid for the rest of us. Indeed, it seems ridiculous that there is still a market for desktop computers. They already look as if they have had their day - as much part of a bygone age as tank-tops or the Tardis. As enthusiasts keep telling us, the computer is only a tool. So, like any good tool, when not it use, it should be possible to put it away and forget about it.

I have no alternative. I will have to buy myself a new notebook. I wonder if parents are eligible for a student loan?

* arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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