Ten Years of Computers - Part Four - 2001

I was averaging one crash per year – serious enough to have to use the system restore disc and wipe my hard drive. Floppy discs were my only means of backing up files and, even with a splitter which could slice up a larger file into a number of 1.44mb files and reassemble them at the other end, it wasn’t really adequate. Having been given a "Reward and Recognition" prize for some people of workplace brilliance and chosen PC World vouchers, I bought m’self a CD re-writer. The thing I remember most about installing it was it was the same night Diamond Dallas Page made his WWF debut. What an odd thing to remember. For a while at least, 650Mb of storage space seemed like an eternity. The only downside was having to talk about it to our department head one day when he cornered me and asked me what I’d used my vouchers for. He was a weird man who seemed permanently on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But I have no sympathy for him because he would go on to make me the central character in a lie he concocted to make his team managers increase their teams’ productivity. I won’t bore you with the details but he lied and he knows he lied and I was the one who got it in the neck for it. I hope he had that breakdown and I hope he didn’t make a full recovery.

NTL came up with a new idea in either late 2000 or early 2001 – TV internet. Yes, for seven pounds per month you could get online without needing a computer. Unlike dial-up (which charged per minute) this was a flat rate for unlimited access. I’ll have some of that. It was technically quite poor – if a page was above a certain size it wouldn’t load and this in practice included most Amazon searches so you had to be very precise or follow a tortuous route of "also by this author" links. I was still able to order from Amazon however and my first ever online purchase? Buffy The Vampire Slayer season 1 on DVD. Much as I love the Slayer and all her adventures, I’ve still to get seasons 6 and 7. On a similar note, my first Play.com (or Play247.com as they were known in those days) was also in 2001 and was the first season of Xena: Warrior Princess. I never got past season 1 of Xena on DVD and that was the show I loved even more than Buffy in those days.

So I could now buy stuff online – what else could the internet possibly give me? How about some friends? August 2001 will go down as the time I discovered the BBC message boards. At first I was put off by a long and frankly bitter debate about whether the Big Finish play "Bloodtide" was blasphemous or not. But after a week or two of lurking I saw there might be a market for pointless remarks and friendly banter so I joined in. It is probably the only time in my entire life I have whole-heartedly joined in with anything. Looking back, it is amazing how quickly it all happened. I was an old hand – one of the gang – within a week and a bitter "things ain’t what they used to be" old sourpuss in less than six months.

Using TV internet for message boards isn’t ideal – the "submit" button was invisible for one thing so I had to press the arrow keys until the cursor changed and hope I’d pressed the right one. I was also reliant on an infrared keyboard which didn’t always transmit every letter I typed ("Roy Keane’s eard" being one example of a missing ‘b’). I couldn’t copy and paste other peoples words so couldn’t quote them when replying to their posts and it was a very risky affair (involving more cursoring around for an invisible button) if I wanted to go from the preview screen back to my message to change something. But it was fun. Dangerously addictive fun but still fun. The BBC boards had all sorts of rules and filters and it was an ongoing game to get round them and live a little. Petty rebellion it may have been but slipping a forbidden dildo into a post about organising a buffet is still one of my proudest moments.

TV Internet also lacked any sort of favourites or bookmarks so the few sites I did visit were memorised and typed in manually every time. I got to be very fast at typing and navigating because using TV Internet quite obviously stopped me watching (or rather recording) television programmes. So I became very adept at pressing the interactive button as soon as the adverts started, pressing whichever buttons were necessary to get to the internet menu, entering the URL and then waiting while it decided whether or not it could load the page. Then, after maybe four minutes, a hasty press of the blue button and a return to TV before the action recommenced. Try explaining all that to a young person used to doing things the modern way. Aye, tcha, aye.

2001 was also, of course, the year of the terrorist attack in New York. Perhaps the first "BIG" event of the internet age and pretty much the entire network collapsed under the strain. I, like countless other people, kept getting "page unavailable" errors and, not helping matters one bit, we were all no doubt F5ing to resend the request (thereby adding to the traffic chaos).