Going to the Pictures

When I was a kid we used to go to the pictures. There were films on the telly, of course, but they were all at least a year old, even at Christmas and other holidays.  I was lucky in that I belonged to my school’s film club, so, in return for running the projector, twice a month I would get to see proper films like You Only Live Twice, Ice Station Zebra, If, though again, not new releases.  If you wanted to see a new film, you had to toddle off down to the Odeon or ABC,  And despite the cheapness of Saturday morning children’s presentations, seeing a mainstream general release film of an evening was expensive for a twelve year old.

By the time I got to University, “The Pictures” was more about the romantic side of life than about actually watching films, and people started saying “going to the Movies” instead of the Pictures.  True, the University Film Society took it upon itself to screen films in a nice large lecture theatre, but I gave up after enduring several unrelentingly poor and achingly hip moody pieces by Warhol and other artists who should have known better.
Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film
A few years later, people had VHS video recorders (or Betamax, if they were unlucky and/or had taste), and it became possible to record films off air or even buy or rent them.  And it is from this time that I suggest people stopped keeping books on shelves in their houses.  There simply was not enough room in a normal house to keep both a decent library and a large film collection. I read a lot.

TV sets were still generally small-screen, and watching True Grit or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was not really a true cinematic experience, so going out to see a film was still something one did if there was a new film on release that was worth watching.

Things have changed.  These days, anyone who wants to see a film with their family faces paying the thick end of £100 for their evening’s entertainment, and when you factor in such overpriced but essential items as pop-corn, drinks etc., you really want to be sure that the film is going to be worth watching.  And thence the whole piracy thing.

It is perfectly possible to watch almost any film you could wish for free these days, albeit illegally, and then decide if it is a) suitable for your family and b) actually worth going to see in a theatre.  I have to say that I base my purchasing decisions upon seeing digital samples.  If it is a good film, I’ll buy it.  If it isn’t I don’t. Films that I have purchased over the last couple of years, entirely because I saw clips from the web include District 9, How to Train your Dragon and Despicable Me.  And yes, I know that the last two are “Family oriented entertainment”, but there is a great deal to enjoy in such pictures, not least all the little hidden gems and quotes from other films included for the benefit of the adult viewer. 


The fact remains, though, that a lot of people actually buy a computer these days with pretty much the only purpose in mind being to download films from on-line sharing sites, store them on a large, cheap hard drive and watch them on a big-screen TV.  (And yes, I know I am technically doing the same thin when I lend one of my books to someone, but I can only lend it to one person at once.)

Then there’s the whole music scene, but that’s another blog.

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You’ve got how many laptops?

Three (at the moment) and one of them isn’t mine, and one is on permanent loan to a friend who needed it a few months ago and now doesn’t, but still finds it useful. And actually, one of them belongs to work.

So none, actually.  But I use one everyday, mainly because it is cheaper to run than my desktop, and for most of the things I want to do it is perfectly adequate.

I just want to step back a bit and put a few things into context.  Just so you know, I’m a very nearly fifty year old bloke, whose main business is helping people to make sense out of hardware and software, and fixing said hardware and (occasionally) software so that it does what people want it to do.  “So,” people say to me, “you understand all this new technology…”, but it is not quite as simple as that.

For a start, what do we mean by “new”?  We (and by that I mean people of my generation) tend to think of computers as new technology, but our children were born into a world where computers were already becoming ubiquitous.  I can remember working on a punched-tape reading teletype terminal when I was at school, around 1978-79, and now my spell checker is so ageist it does not even recognise the word “teletype”.  My children have been au fait with PCs since they found out that you could play games on them, and cheerfully do end-runs around my pitiful attempts to secure our router and server.

It’s not that I dislike computers, mobile phones, iPads (actually, yes I do dislike iPads) etc., it’s just that there are so many more and different ones every year that I’m running full tilt to keep up.  And I probably only dislike iPads because I haven’t got one.  What I object to is not the technology itself, but the impossibility of owning a new one of everything.  Aside from the cost, it is simply that I do not have time to learn how to make effective use of all the new shiny bits of electrobling that I a dribble over on the web.

From the first I was an “early adopter”, or “mug” as we are probably called by large technology company marketing people.  I have always loved and will always love gadgets, especially shiny, small and clever ones.  My first mobile phone cost a fortune to buy and run, and lasted about half an hour on one charge.  I kept it in a shoulder-holster case.  My first PC cost (in real terms) more than all of the computers currently in my home (7 at last count), and I have literally thrown away three and given away as many.  I simply cannot remember how many mobile phones, PDAs I have had, and I still keep finding mysterious adapter leads and mains chargers for devices I cannot even remember acquiring.  It seems that as soon as I have one mobile phone it is out of date and I need another.

Well, I have given up chasing the golden dream of owning one of everything at the cutting edge.  I have decided that, unless I need a device for work, or it is not possible to do without it, I am sticking with my current crop.  I have a phone with no camera on it, (I have a camera, for goodness’ sake), an mp3 player that has no fruit logo on it and does not play videos, and I cannot get enthusiastic about 3D TV.

So no new toys.  (Unless it’s really shiny).