Video? Video?

While I was writing the previous I was suddenly struck by how embarrassingly archaic and completely bloody out of it I am. And I've been trying deliberately to become completely out of touch for some time now, but now that it's finally happened I'm almost ashamed. Almost.

I mean - rent a video? Rent a video? Do people still do that? Are there video rental shops even? Do people rent anything? No wonder Nate looked at me strangely when I pitched it, as far as it's possible to do that by e-mail. Does anyone apart from me even own a bloody video player any more? Why don't I go the whole hog and base a bit on the premise that you and your wife and the scullery maid quarrel over which sheet music to buy for singing hymns round the upright piano?

And it's not just the technology that's dated - the very concept of people sharing a house together gathering in one room and being forced to watch the same thing - that went out with flared paisley steam-engines, granddad. It's not even that all you young whippersnappers each have a DVD in your own room, you're downloading films from your iPods directly to your own bloody retinas and living in your own little thing and never even seeing any other member of the human race except through your bloody magic IBM 70BPM wireless hands-off bollocks-free 24-hour-rolling personal telephony devices.

And I don't care. I don't care. Don't want to know, won't get involved. If I buy a DVD player, even, it'll just encourage them to invent something else. And I'm not ashamed, I'm not, and I won't be made to feel ashamed.

Because you know what? Life is too bloody short and I'm buggered if I'm going to waste any of it trying to keep up with the inane tweaking and upgrading and outdating and superseding of things that worked perfectly well already that's going to be continuing ad infinitum until the whole pointless system of getting and spending comes crashing down around our arses.

And you know what else? One of the reasons William Gibson is such a bloody good science-fiction writer is he had the wit to realise that technology is only interesting when used by criminals or artists.

So, for example, I just read there's going to be wireless internet provided on trains going from London to Brighton. And the notion of a train full of commuters all sitting there downloading porn and virals and Captain Pugwash screensavers just makes me want to slit my wrists. But, if it was an episode of Alias, and Sydney Bristow was on a train using her laptop to hack into the Vatican bank while the train is heading for a cliff and there are ninjas on the roof shooting at her, that's pretty bloody cool. (Except they only did that kind of thing in the second series, and in the new one she would just be sitting there agonising about her relationships.)

Likewise iPods per se are completely pointless, but if instead of spending days on end cramming 8000 bloody inane songs on it and sitting there gloating and lisping, 'Mine, all mine, all my pretties in one place, they cannot escape me now', and 'So small, so small and portable, my iPod, mine, all mine, it cannot escape me now', and 'Oh, I hope someone asks me what is on my iPod, I hope they do, I can tell them all my favourite songs,' - if instead of that you were a hormonally-enhanced Ukrainian assassin who'd been expelled from an obscure neo-KGB splinter faction and you walked into a bank in Singapore that's a front for a rogue Yakuza-Triad-KLF hybrid and you steal some overalls and a mop and a trolley and pretend you're a janitor and you sneak down to the black science labs on the secret sub-level and you come out of the lift listening to an i-Pod and the guard says, 'Hey, you're not allowed down here' and you ignore him and start to mop the floor and pretend you can't hear him because you're listening to your iPod and he comes and turns it off and then you kill him with the mop and hack into the computer and download the RNA sequence of a gene-targeted virus that will kill every albino in the world onto your iPod and then you take it home and make the virus and use it to blackmail every albino in the world into working for you so you have this really cool army of albinos and you gather them all together in your base and sit there gloating and lisping 'Mine, all mine, look at all my albinoes, they cannot escape me now' - that would be a pretty interesting use of science.

And you want to know the really embarrassing thing, the one that really almost makes me blush? I don't even know what an iPod looks like. I assume it's pod-like, and it's probably painted silver or gold or something futuristic like that, and I imagine there's a bit that sticks in your ear, but beyond that I haven't got a bollocks. For all I know they resemble a huge antique earhorn connected to half a ton of shellac discs pulled after you on a trolley, in which case I would buy one. I wasn't even all that sure of what they did until I started to write this. I had to Google to be sure they were what I thought they were.

And you know what? I am not ashamed. I'm not quite at the point of being proud not to know, but I'm definitely not ashamed. I should be, I know. I should be ashamed to be such a fogey at my age, and unless I can arrange to fall through a time-warp or go and live on an island the next fifty years are going to be pretty bloody horrendous for me.

But you know why I'm not ashamed? Fractals. Because as far as I'm concerned the whole iPod-download-speedfax-your-bollocks-to-Neptune thing is the fractals debacle all over again. And I'm not getting caught twice.

Fractals. Back in my day, they were it. They were the taut itchy bollocks of Satan's wolfhound. Oh aye. Back in my day, fractals were our equivalent of rolling 24-hour 3G SMS Xbox nanobot weblog wired directly to your medulla oblongata. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven! We wept, wept with gratitude that we had lived to see their coming. It was like, O brave new world that has such swirly patterns in it.

Everything was, 'Whoa, fractals, man', 'Chaos theory, dude', 'Infinite recursion, bro', 'Get with the Mandelbrot set, granddad'. The papers were all, 'Will fractals end disease?' 'Can fractals improve your love life?' and 'By the year 2000 you will be going to work in a fractal.' And cut out and keep guides, 'What does it mean for you?' And page three girls wearing fractals, and fractal prophecies in the Mail.

And we found out that butterflies were causing hurricanes, and we panicked, we panicked, we panicked and rioted and ran amok, and it was all 'Stamp out these dandy little bastards who are destroying the world', 'Have you killed yours today?'

And I'll tell you something else, and this is true. I remembered this for some reason just the other day, and it made me laugh out loud almost as much as my video shop gaffe did: at some point in the late 80s or early 90s they had a Newsnight special explaining how fractals were going to change the world, and they had Alan Moore off Watchmen on to explain Chaos Theory, and some spod pointing a camera at a TV screen wired to that camera to show you how you could make your own fractals at home. And that's true.

And in Parliament it was 'Give the pensioners fractals', and they were going to design a Euro-fractal, and Madonna dated a fractal, and they were it.

And they did fuck-all. And where are they now? Presenting the shopping channel. Playing ironic nostalgia sympathy-gigs in student unions. The lead singer has a pilot for a Channel 5 gameshow.

So think on. If you want to stay sane in this world, anytime someone invents something or revolutionizes something or comes up with some new economic or political theory or tries to sell you something or wants you to get enthusiastic about anything whatsoever, just remember that fractals were once on Newsnight.

PS An old sparring partner has just informed me that none of the above deflects in any way from my appalling video rental lapse, and wonders when I'll start making jokes along the lines of 'Don't you hate when your 8-track gets snarled up?' I feel like Rip Van Winkle. In my defence, I had noticed, you know, that these things called DVDs were creeping in. But who the hell has time to keep track of how video shops are doing? What am I, the High Street Retail Index? Piss off.

PPS. I just saw the advert for the new laptop computer that uses your fingerprint instead of passwords, and the fool that just sits there boasting about it. Are you stupid? They'll have your finger off. Have you seen no thrillers whatsoever? Any time you need someone's palm-print to access something, you just hack the hand off.

PPPS. And by the way what the hell's with all this porn for mobile phones? I feel strongly that some things should not be mobile. Wait until you get home, for Christ's sake.

26th April 05