Huffpost UK Comedy uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Alex Hawley Headshot

Modern Times

Posted: Updated:

Every 15 seconds a vaguely right-wing, slightly aggressive email plops into my inbox, exhorting a return to the good old days - before emails or inboxes. The letter claims to be from a wise, apple pie baking grandparent, a Vietnam Vet, Bill Cosby and/or Morgan Freeman. Now and then Bill or Morgan finds out about one of these and denies they had anything to do with it, but by then it's too late; I've already narrated the piece in one or both of their voices.

The email in question (they're all pretty much the same) is a conservative wail about how great things once were and what's gone wrong with Western civilisation since. Back in Bill & Morgan's excellent youth life was rosier. People had impeccable manners, crime was lower, general health was superior. The world was just a kinder, safer, altogether better place.

Of course a cursory glance at anything resembling a statistic will tell you that most of this is pure fantasy. As far as manners are concerned customs may have changed a little, but the intentions are still the same: where once men would doff a cap to a lady, now they send a polite wolf whistle and mime how an evening in one another's company might proceed.

When it comes to the danger of living in this now, at least according to the all-knowing Steven Pinker, we're living in the least violent time in our history. Steven doesn't have a beard but does have the dreadful haircut, high voice and funny last name of an academic, so I'm loath to disagree. While the news, CSI and Bruce Willis would have us believe we're living in an ever-more dangerous world, the opposite is the case. Violent crime has dropped and continues to drop year upon year, century upon century despite us continuing to criminalise more of it.

Health-wise we live longer, comfier, less painful lives than ever. Even from my own youth I can remember receiving dental treatment without anaesthetic, unthinkable today. The dental witch would cackle at my tears while a peal of thunder sounded continuously on a Casio cassette player sat amongst the rusty root-canal cutlery on the floor. Both life and limb span have roughly doubled in the last hundred years. Unless you believe the records in Genesis then now is the best we've ever had these stats as well. If hippy philosophers are right and life's just a game, it can't be long now before someone clocks it.

That's before we even get into convenience. Theseadays I can fly from London to Auckland in around 25 hours (not including the four hours travelling three miles to Heathrow in a rail replacement bus). Of course this is if I can be bothered averting my gaze from the plasma screen dominating the living room's horizon. In my youth our black and white television weighed a country ton, had a Serena Williams backside and played a grand total of two channels. There were no remote controls so if the channel needed changing from the News to another rerun of M*A*S*H someone would have to actually get up and thump it. The modern day, sneakily progressive thing that it is, is a wondrous time.

All that said, I haven't entirely embraced everything that this particular millennium has been offering. I wouldn't say it's 'gone too far'. A spectrum is a ridiculous and arrogant way of viewing the issue, implying that somehow I'm the one who knows how far is too far. I don't want to get side-tracked but this applies to politics and taking offence in comedy as well.

With that in mind, unless you're really interested in technology for its own sake and therefore truly enjoy the change process, you reach a stage at which you're happy for the technological charge to at least slow down, if not stop altogether. I was about ready for things to rust up a little around the turn of the century.

Here then, are my additions for Bill and Morgan's next mail-out:

I miss shopping, proper shopping; the kind of shopping that involves some walking. Sure, some things used to be delivered. Back when I was in short trousers and shoes with buckles, a basket of milk would be delivered to our letterbox every weekday afternoon. The neighbourhood prankster would deliver a flaming surprise-filled bag to a different doorstep each weekend and there were also letters and newspapers. For the most part, though, if we wanted to buy something we had to go and get it.

I actually don't mind occasionally removing myself from the house and going to the shops to purchase a light bulb or a new rambling costume that might come in useful for walks... perhaps to the shops. I enjoy picking something out, buying it a very short time later and then being able to wear it out of the store or at least play with it/ put it up/ put something on it/ read it as soon as I get home. Now everything's online and all the warehouses are on one of the outer planets and refuse to sell to mere retail customers. There are always outlet malls but the odds of coming away from these places further away from suicide are a slightly damaged size 6 to none. You can still go to normal shops and spend twice the price for the same item if you choose, but you can't unknow the price difference so you don't. Instead you make the purchase online and the helpful delivery folk give you a 168 hour window in which it might, but probably won't, be delivered.

Here's an update: I don't need any more phone updates. My phone's already an awful lot smarter than me; no need for any more now. It tells me the time, gives me my email, lets me send and receive texts and, for those moments when waiting two seconds is too long, instant messages. I can watch video clips and be bugged 150 times a day to fight vampires, join an online farm, and receive pictures of cats, parties, food and all the other breaking news from the good people at facebook. It even has this feature which allows me to speak in real time with someone else who has one of these 'phones'. The last feature alone would suffice. The others are nice but I can always wait until I get home before finding out that Jenny 'needs a big glass of red lol '. All I really need to get me through a journey is a mobile which works and one of those pens which you tip upside down and the girl loses her bathing suit.

Come to think of it, I neither want nor need the latest anything. Give it to me in a couple of years when you've got it figured out, are bored with it and have moved on to something newer and shinier/ less shiny depending on the fad. We were about two decades late in buying a video recorder and that was quite dazzling enough thank you very much. By the time it broke five minutes later, they'd stopped being made and we had to buy DVDs, which are apparently now passé themselves. I can't be alone in this surely. Don't other people want the same model of something once its internal hamster has run out of puff?

Nextly, to whoever's in charge of new things, please make some things that are easier to fix. It used to be that if my car broke down I knew around six tricks to get it working again (and yes, one of them was putting petrol in). If I did something with an alternator cap I felt like a Mullet-free McGyver. Now it's all computerised. If I've gone for a drive to get away from computers for a few hours and run into trouble, I'll end up on the phone to a different department at the same call centre I was crying to over my smoking keyboard before I left.

When I'm buying any of this new technology being forced upon me, trying to fix whatever's broken or being instructed about an alt.netdrive.sprocket//ctrltx975 error, then please go easy on me and show an appropriate level of disrespect. Don't you dare speak to me as if I know something. My brains were forged in the fire of the mid 70s, before USB ports or internets. We didn't have any of your fancy nano or giga numbers. Numbers went up to ten and if any nerdy Olivers asked for more they got a bunch of fives and another one for good (Imperial) measure. Drives were places that cars and bored children lived and an apple was something you didn't eat unless it was covered in toffee.

As Denzel Washington said in Philadelphia "Aunt Teresa is gay? That beautiful, sensuous, voluptuous woman is a lesbian?" More to the point, as Washington said later on, "Look, I want you to explain this to me like I'm a six year old." I don't understand techno-speak and don't want to learn. I'm two words into being bilingual, so I'm not ready to start on a third. Our lingua franca is English. If I start pretending to understand e-speak I'll just sound like a weird parent trying to be down with the kids, except when I was at school if you understood any technology more recent than fire then you were the uncool one. Happier times.