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Techno deprivation

Every summer my wife and I conduct an extraordinary social experiment with our kids which, if the authorities got to hear about it, could land us in jail.

23 September 2009

12:00 AM

23 September 2009

12:00 AM

Every summer my wife and I conduct an extraordinary social experiment with our kids which, if the authorities got to hear about it, could land us in jail. We take them for a fortnight to a remote house in the Welsh borders, take the fuse out of the plug so they can’t watch TV, and force them to entertain themselves using nothing but books, board games and the outdoors.

‘The Noughties Kids are going back in time. How will they cope?’ you can imagine the voiceover to the accompanying fly-on-the-wall documentary asking in the manner of such previous retro-porn, home-makeover, history-light classics as The Viking House, The Victorian Farm, The Medieval Dungeon, The Eighties Crack Den, and The ’Nam Bunker Where Everyone’s On Acid But The Soundtrack’s Fab. (If anyone makes any of the last three — and I think they should — I’m claiming copyright.)

But actually it would be a rubbish documentary because the kids cope too well.They really don’t need Nintendo DXs and 200 channels and Call of Duty 4. A bike is just as much fun. Especially if it’s a Chopper, as we saw when the BBC conducted a similar time-travel ‘experiment’ called Electric Dreams (BBC4, Monday).

Each day for the family is the equivalent to a year of a particular decade, starting with 1970, when they’re not allowed central heating because only 25 per cent of the population had it in those days. Big excitement on Day two (1971), though. Mum and Dad take delivery of a Goblin Teasmade, which means that, instead of going down to the kitchen to make tea, they have the comfort convenience of a machine going whirr, bubble, fshhtt right by their bed instead. Then, a few days later, they get a chest freezer to put in the garage, meaning Mum can feel greatly more liberated because suddenly she no longer has to shop daily for fresh produce. And so on.

To their credit, the family barely even tried to ham up the hardship they were experiencing as a result of all this techno deprivation. They took it in the spirit in which it was intended: viz a gentle nostalgia trip for those who were there first time round, reminding us of half-forgotten things like the joys of making a mix tape.

Even the 11-year-old boy was impressed by this. He instantly appreciated the tactile qualities of vinyl (as against digital downloads on an MP3 player) and, playing an LP for the first time ever on a turntable, he discovered just how hard it was aligning the needle with the smooth, narrow gap between each song.

‘However did we all manage?’ we ask ourselves now. But I don’t remember ever thinking at the time: ‘Jesus! This is just so difficult. When, oh when, are those scientists going to come up with technology which frees me from the horror of stylus alignment and discs you have to turn over after half an hour and tape-compilation techniques where if you don’t release the pause button next to “record” and “play” at the right time either the between-song gap will be too hissy and wide or you’ll cut into the actual track…’ We just accepted it all as the way things were, didn’t we?

This is what I loathe about technology. It really doesn’t make you any happier, just forcibly answers needs you never actually had. The Seventies were way better with their Space Hoppers, and slide shows, and no one being able to get in touch with you unless you were at home and you chose to answer the phone. Give me the slow life of power cuts, pressure cookers and Buckaroo any day, rather than the wired, impossible-to-switch-off world of now.

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