Home computers are a con

So says Mr John Wheatley from East Dulwich in London SE22.

So I was having a clear out today and I found a couple of very old copies of Popular Computing Weekly magazine from February 1984 which brought back some very interesting memories.

PCW 1984


These took me back to a time before the internet, before removable disks and even before colour in some cases. The days when software was actually distributed in printed form where enthusiasts would spend hours typing the code printed on the page into their computers so that they could run a very simple application and then have to type it all in again next time because there was no way to save it.

If you were really lucky, perhaps your PC had a tape drive and would sit for hours waiting for your new game to load.

But the best bit was the letters page. I will let you read it for yourself (click on the image for a full size copy) but oh how things have moved on.

The silicon myth

I have owned a computer for over a year now and have come to a conclusion which many of your readers will probably disagree with most strongly. The conclusion is this: I and others have been conned. I shall explain.

After the initial excitement of owning a computer had worn off, I began to think what possible practical use it could be put to. Sure, it played games — very colourful and very sophisticated some of them. Well, they have to be. The demand for new and exciting games is created not only by software companies offering us more earth-shattering, mind-blowing games, but by the public themselves who buy them because they don’t want to be reminded that they’ve spent a small fortune on something that does nothing. They’re escaping from the reality that they’ve been conned. And who by?

But, to get back to my question, what does it do? I suppose I could buy a gadget that would enable my computer to talk. Probably spending long programming hours building up a small vocabulary so that the computer can utter a few meaningless words or phrases. So what? It may amaze and amuse a couple of friends, but what would soon wear off. It can print. I can spend well over £200 on a printer, but unless I’m in business or have a job that requires one, that would be its use? To print out a computer program? That’s very useful.

It can run an electric train. Oooh, that’s something to look forward to. I’ll go and buy one!

Its most useful application is to occupy bored minds. I spend hours blasting silly little aliens that make pathetic noises when destroyed. I move objects around the screen in 3D (WOW). I have a filing system which is capable of finding an item at light speed. But, by the time I have set the damn thing up and loaded the program, I could have already found it in half the time!

The thing that gets me is that no one is prepared to tell the truth. People are too frightened. And it’s not surprising. Huge businesses have been built up on the back of the Silicon myth, and many more are being born every week.

Papers, television and in particular computer magazines, help perpetuate the myth that computers are wonderful and fantastic — there’s nothing they can’t do, because their very existence relies on the public buying them. And, because magazines depend heavily on computer companies’ advertising revenue, they are in a sense the companies’ mouthpieces.

The magazines do not dare to criticize or question the usefulness or contribution of computers to society. Instead, the magazines are intent on stoking the furnace of a consumer public, which are demanding more and more, because they are told by the magazines and the rest of the media, that they can’t live without a computer.

The whole thing is a massive con trick. A home computer is one of the most useless consumer commodities invented.

My advice to anyone teetering on the edge of buying a computer is think. All it can do is play games, talk a bit and, if you can afford it, print a bit. Nothing else. It won’t make you clever or wise. And if you believed half of what those mono-sodium-glutamate-glossy adds said, you would be capable of running the world’s individual companies and still have change to play a game of Scrabble.

John Wheatley

29 Hansler Rd

E Duiwich

London SF22


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