Monday, 7 June 2010

Tweet If You Agree

Technology is wonderful. When it’s shown on TV it’s always in HD, runs at lightning speed and works everytime. Our heroes patch themselves without flicker directly into the city’s CCTV to watch fluid action on the city streets. The protagonist will open his laptop and with instant boot-up will connect via brilliant, colour enhanced and stable Skype to a fellow operator calling in from the Gobi Desert. Action will flow. Voices will sync. When M checks her email she can always remember her password and without a pause her account loads first time.

Workstations do not get viruses. Nothing gets in to take the embarrassing content of C drives and to mail it out, in fragments, to all the operator’s friends. EBook readers work in full sun and their batteries never run down.

On the train along the Welsh border it is not like this. Signal is as fictional as the novel I’m reading. Text messages are about as instant as old time letter post. By the time we reach Ludlow my battery, which I forgot to put on essential overnight charge, is down to 10%. I try checking the weather. The screen stays blank.

In the house it’s just as bad. Here I have to lean against the inside of the front door to get anything. And I don’t live anywhere odd. This is a standard city terrace not surrounded by big buildings. The tallest nearby thing would be a passing double-decker bus. There’s a better signal at the Writers Centre at Ty Newydd in Llanystumdwy. Although you do have to stand on a tree-stump in the top field to get that.

Pre computer the worst thing that ever happened was that through overuse keys on your typewriter stopped working. The poet John Tripp’s machine was famous for having most of the vowels type out of alignment. The lines of his verse wobbled as they sang.

The Oulipo group of writers developed a whole art form based around malfunctioning pre-computer technology. A typewriter which had the letter e missing was seen as a creative challenge. Could a novel be written using only words which avoided this vowel? George Perec’s “A Void” (La Disparition) was the result. “A familiar story of a drunk man waking up with his brain in a whirl”.

Do we do this kind of thing in Wales? The poet J P Ward has a letter to the editor of the latest Poetry Wales in which all the keys of his typer appear to be transposed. “Imno pqrstuvwx” he writes. “y za bcdefgh……” M could probable work out what he’s saying, no bother.

On the train near Newport the phone signal returns. Mark Taylor is the new WMC CEO an incoming tweet tells me. Progress at last.

A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 5th June, 2010. There is too much text for me to tweet.

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