Stone, Paper, Scissors

In which The Author recapitulates an earlier theme

In I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue I outlined my tentative theory of human evolution, whereby our species has moved collectively from the Stone Age and into the Paper Age (at varying stages, of course). I concluded by stating my belief that the Twenty-First Century marks the beginning of the Scissors Age. For me, the Scissors represents the advent of Information Technology, and symbolises the divide between those of us who are able to use computers, the internet, and ‘digital’ technology in general, and everyone else who is stuck in the analogue world.
My friends Janis and Grace have set up a new training agency in the Cynon Valley. A few weeks ago, Janis and I were chatting about the importance of Basic Skills and IT Literacy in the modern world. She quoted me some figures from the Welsh Government, which stated that forty per cent of adults in this country don’t have basic IT skills.
That’s a bigger percentage than you might think. It didn’t surprise me one bit. If anything, I’d have expected the figure to be much higher. As for basic skills (literacy and numeracy), if we reached a sixty per cent level of adult competence as a nation, I’d be shocked. Just observing my friends trying to read the papers (and I’m not talking about proper newspapers – I’m talking about the Sun and the Daily Star) is embarrassing at best. Their mental arithmetic is limited to working out their winnings on the horses and deciding whether they’ve got enough cash for another pint. It’s so much easier if they just absorb the shit from the television and not try to learn anything for themselves.
As for computers – the majority of the people I speak to have at best a rudimentary grasp of the technology involved. They think they’ve been able to enter the Twenty-First Century without it. The truth is that not one of them would survive without using a cashpoint, or a SKY box, or a microwave oven, or a remote control, or the national lottery machine, or even a self-service checkout in a supermarket. They’re trapped by technology whether they like it or not. But, as long as they can manage the bare minimum of interaction with the Machine World, they can just about get by.
When I was in my second year, I had to show one of my lecturers how to transfer his PhD work onto a memory stick. He asked me not to tell anyone, as he found the whole thing so embarrassing. I don’t blame him. I haven’t named him. I also needed to show some of my classmates how to save their work in something other than Microsoft file formats. They were young. My lecturer wasn’t. I’m somewhere in between. My own whacked-out IT skills bridged the gap, somehow.
The Circumlocution Office has introduced a new online system for job hunting. I first registered for it on 27 November. I have the confirmation emails to prove it. To this day I’ve been totally unable to log into the system to look for a job. My registration details aren’t valid. Even the jobs which have come my way through third-party search engines such as Indeed have been out of reach for me.
I know what I’m doing. I’m Tech Support in the pubs, I’m Tech Support in the Library, and I’ve even been Tech Support in the Circumlocution Office for a few minutes. I’ve already told my mate in the CO that, if they want to speed up their painfully slow Linux-based system, I can add a few lines of code and make it run like greased lightning. Of course, I’m not authorised to touch their system. I had a similar encounter in the Library a couple of months ago, when I was told in no uncertain terms that I ‘hadn’t been trained’ to use the new microfilm reader. That’s as may be. I know how it works. It’s their loss, not mine.
On Friday, when I have to phone the DWP helpline to access my own account on Universal Jobmatch, I’ll probably be talking to some numpty who’ll talk to me as though I am a complete beginner. Janis and Grace already want me on board to teach Basic Skills and IT. I personally think I’m qualified to take most of my technophobic mates to the first level – and way beyond that. I just need the bit of paper in my pocket to prove it. I’ve done Paper all my life. I’ve mastered it. Now I’m fully qualified to teach people who run away at the sight of the Scissors.
But I can’t help the people who still want to use stone tools. If they’re happy to stay there, they’re not my problem any more. Our species is moving on. I’m moving on with them. That’s evolution for you. If you’re not scared of Scissors, you know where to find me. If you’re happy dealing with Paper, that’s fine. I can probably bring you up to the next level. It might take some time.
Meanwhile, if you can’t even deal with Paper, please get out of my life. If you’ve got a smartphone, but need me to look up coach times or your lottery numbers on the Netbook, you’re equipped far beyond your level of competence. Why buy a Ferrari when you’re only going to tootle around the village as far as the corner shop? Sell your smartphone, buy a steam-driven one like mine, and learn to use the basic technology before you fork out again.
Then again, if you can’t even add nine and seven in your head, then accept the fact that you’re going to be a barmaid for the rest of your life. You’re only barely qualified to do that. If the till breaks down, you’re going to be fucked. You’re not my problem. The Twenty-First Century doesn’t need you. Please don’t have children, because you’re not obviously fit to raise them. Scissors is always going to win this game. Paper will come a distant second. Stone is finished.
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