Like it’s 1991

As a bulwark against the constant tide of information and comment pouring in from facebook, twitter, YouTube, Instagram and all, and in an attempt to regain a bit of time from the world, I resolved that in 2017 I would have alternate 1991 days.

This isn’t an attempt to turn back the clock to before the Maastricht Treaty, but to a time when we had computers, but (broadly speaking) no Internet. Certainly I didn’t. If I remember rightly, I was ahead of my time (or a nerd, possibly both, but not necessarily) because I had a 2400 baud modem. With this, one could dial another computer, running something called a ‘bulletin board’ – provided it wasn’t engaged, hence blocking your phone from use. Once contact was made, you could chat with another nerd, download a picture of a girl in a bikini, which would appear in horizontal stripes on the screen over the course of about two minutes, like very slowly opening a venetian blind. And, er, not much else. All this was done, by the way, using a command line interface involving typing commands and watching stuff scroll up the screen faster than you can read. Yes, we had Windows and Macs, but no browsers. Computers themselves were getting pretty widespread – at the time I think I had a Compaq desktop, and had to buy a separate sound card and not only a very expensive ‘CD-Rom drive’, but (and I still resent this after all these years) ‘drive rails’ which cost £50, just so I could run something called ‘Microsoft Encarta’ which was like Wikipedia only prettier but crap. (This is appalling Temporal Imperialism on my part. At the time we thought it was very impressive – when it worked.) So lots of people had them, but they were solitary beasts, mostly used as typewriters which had the disadvantage that you needed another bit of hardware to get hard copy out of. The CDRom and the soundcard were the first steps away from this, as was the modem, and the slatty slutty pictures. ‘Towards what?’ is the question, and partly the point of this.

So if the day of the month tomorrow is an even number, the last thing I do is get my phone (and in 1991, lest we forget, that word meant a bulky thing which plugged into the wall, with a curly cable that always got messed up because people didn’t put it ‘back on the hook’ the same way) and I switch off Wifi, and switch off 4G and Bluetooth, but leave phone on –because my family will be irritated enough that I don’t respond to Whatsapps, so I need at least to leave them the option to phone me. I do still have a ‘land-line’ but no one even knows its number. I only have it because I need a landline to get fibre optic internet for a reason that I don’t understand. Thus do I reduce the world-enabled multi-media gigacomputer that we all call phones to being – a phone. And no, I don’t take photos with it, or listen to music on it, because even though we had devices that would broadly do both those things in 1991, photos would be taken onto 35mm film and have to be sent to Boots to be processed, and music would either have to be listened to from a 90 minute cassette, with very tedious rewinding or fast forwarding to change song, or from a vinyl turntable along with all that mucking about with sleeves and styli. Who’s got the patience for that these days? Damned if I’m going to try to simulate it to stay inside the rules. Better to enjoy the silence.

The other thing I do is go to my desktop and detach the RJ45 from the back. That’s right. It’s a typewriter again.

So what does this auto-Ludditism do for me? And if it’s so damn great, why don’t I just make every day a 1991 day? In fact, why don’t I just go back to 1991 where I came from if I like it so much? Well, 1991 wasn’t so bad, but I wouldn’t go back. Thatcher had just gone, which was a very nice feeling, but computer graphics and sexual politics were like this, and George Michael (RIP) was still pretending to be straight.

If I were a stronger person, I have no doubt that I could discipline myself to achieve the same effect voluntarily, but like many people I expect, including with high likelihood anyone reading this, I find the scope for time-wasting procrastination vastly increased by the presence in my life of such things as facebook and Wikipedia. Occasionally statistics are published about how many times per minute a teenager checks their phone, and mine will be up there with them, to my shame. Has someone sent me a message, by one of the many means available, which is so urgent that I need to know it now? More importantly has someone liked or commented upon some asinine posting I have made on facebook?

Perhaps this is unfair. Like it or not, social media have become an important way in which we interact with other people, even, or indeed especially, people who are not in our immediate every day experience. This obviously has challenges for our society but I couldn’t possibly say that they were definitely completely, nor even on balance, negative. Even as I write this, I am indulging in a lengthy facebook exchange with someone I have never met, and don’t particularly plan to (a little piece of micro-procrastination from this piece about procrastination, which I am mainly writing as a procrastination from doing some of the other things I’m not in the mood to do). I have no idea to what extent my thoughts will impact his, nor his mine. If they didn’t interest me to at least some extent, I wouldn’t bother replying, and yet I am.

So I don’t want to give it up, but at the same time there are things which just can’t be done while we have so many distractions. How many people resolve, as I have done, to read more books in the coming year? How many of them are the same ones who place a book by their bedside and then look at LADSBible and Newsthump until it’s time to put out the light? Who’s got time to practise the piano, or try out that nice new set of watercolours your children bought you for Christmas? 1991 days are little holidays when I can reclaim some of the peace of the past.

So I spent 4th January – almost all of it – doing a very hard crossword. Perhaps procrastination wasn’t invented with the Internet after all.



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