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The Scrivener: On Being Submerged

Brian Barratt manages to stay afloat in this digital fibre age.

The ice at the poles is not melting, said the friend I met outside the newsagent's. Sea levels around the world are not rising, he told me. And if the people who live on islands in the Pacific Ocean are worried about losing their land to rising water, they shouldn't have gone to live there in the first place.

I was going to tell him about aerial and satellite photos of the Arctic ice-cap taken over many years, and even about the ancient tree-stumps I saw 65 years ago in the sea off the coast of Lincolnshire, but I thought better of it. The conversation was going nowhere.

Sometimes when I'm sitting at my favourite outdoor coffee shop, working on the day's newspaper crosswords, there is a lady in the corner doing the same thing. We exchange a brief greeting but I haven't engaged her in conversation. She has usually been reticent. Well, she was until this week. I noticed that she wasn't using the newspaper but seemed to have some sort of hand-held computer device. So waddled over, asked her what it was, and we got talking.

She wasn't actually doing a crossword puzzle but was playing Patience, or Solitaire as some people call it. And she was doing it on a Samsung Galaxy Note, an over-sized mobile phone packed with gadgetry. It is linked to her home computer, her iPad, and to her computer at work. She can also check the security cameras at her company's headquarters. And she quickly, and proudly, showed me all the other things she can do on this remarkable machine.

I couldn't read very much of what was on the screen, even when she enlarged it, and my somewhat plump and inflexible fingers wouldn't have been able to cope with the tiny visual keyboard without pressing several letters at the same time. But I was very impressed by the device, and by both her usage of it and her skill, particularly as she is not, shall we say, a young person.

Another screen recently impressed me. After he'd finished installing my new TV set, a young technician asked me to sign on the dotted line to confirm that he had done his work satisfactorily. The dotted line was not on a piece of paper but on the screen of another 21st century electronic gadget, some sort of pad rather than a phone. And so I signed my name with a stylus, not with a pen. That was a new experience for me.

I did this with a sigh of satisfaction because it had taken two weeks, four visits to the shop, the acquisition of two cable connections that were missing, half a dozen e-mail messages, and several phone calls, to get the job done properly. It was not a standard installation but involved linking the new TV to my Kenwood Receiver (that's a sort of advanced 'home theatre' engine) so that the picture and the sound from both the TV and my DVD player were functioning as they should.

Even though I had told the shop assistants about the Kenwood Receiver, it turned out that three of them, on separate occasions, had not been aware that this involved something beyond standard installation. I won't report my conversations with them, interesting though they were. Let's just say that they were tense, but always polite.

Perhaps I should have adopted the philosophy of the chap outside the newspaper shop if your impatience is rising and you're being submerged by optical fibre sound cables and the complexities of digital video, you shouldn't go there in the first place. But I'm glad I did.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2012

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