Off Line, On Line

Soon we will be filling in our census forms in the United Kingdom. Ten years ago, at the last census, we filled in our paper forms and I made sure I was put down as a writer, I think Freelance Writer were my exact words. This time I shall put author. The personal details of the census are not revealed for a hundred years, so when my descendants are looking up the census forms on one of those history programmes I want them to know I wrote. They will either know because I have become famous, or more likely will wonder who on earth I was and what I wrote.

But this time we are required to fill in the form on line, save paper, but it is sad there will be no historic piece of paper to look at. On our instructions it says you can request a paper form at www.census.gov.uk –  how would you do that if you are not On Line? It then adds ‘ask your nephew or daughter if you need help’. Okay, just joking. There is a phone number and there are Census Support Centres. But the head householder will be fined up to £1000 if they don’t fill it in. The whole point of a census is for absolutely every household to be accounted for, so that enthusiastic intellectual presenters can make history programmes in a hundred years time ( probably holograms or perhaps they will be able to bring us back to life by then ). Even if you don’t have a computer, this census should be less trouble than it was for Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem!

The pandemic has shown us more than ever what a divide there is between being on line and off line. I am grateful to be on line, but totally sympathetic with people who have never seen the need, or are not in a position to acquire the technology. Once upon a time, early in this century, I was still off line. A friend having a big clear out sent me an email she found from my daughter – in a cross over between on line and tradition, she used to print out emails for her mother to read, hence the existence of this historic document reminding me how far I have come this century. The email was written in the year 2000. I have redacted most of it for security reasons.

Although I recall saying I would start learning about computers when our youngest started school, all that happened was I started working at the local playgroup, which in turn led me to seeking out jobs that didn’t involve computers when the children were older. People my age who were working in offices or teaching were of course going on computer courses. I did at one stage enrol in evening classes at my children’s high school with their technology teacher; who turned out to be as useless as they claimed. He would say he was just going to get some more printer paper, but we could see across the quadrangle that he had just gone out for a smoke; this would happen several times in the lesson…

By the time we moved away in 2004 my on line achievements amounted to looking up estate agents’ websites and logging in to the Southbourne Beach surfers’ webcam.

Joining a weekly writers’ group in 2007 meant I had to start learning how to type, how to do word documents and how to print them out. At first I would pretend Monday was Tuesday, so I would be sure to have my printed work ready for Wednesday morning; all this required a lot of help from the long suffering Cyberspouse. Actually thinking what to write was nothing compared with the technical challenge; I would never have imagined writing books, self publishing and blogging lay in the future… I did not have any concept of such things even existing.

When did you leave the real world and go on line?

19 thoughts on “Off Line, On Line

  1. I bought my first computer in 1995. I didn’t go seriously online until 1997. I was going through some old folders the other day from that time, and I found a little newspaper clipping about this new search engine that perhaps I should check out. The search engine in question? Google.

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    1. You were well ahead of me Liz. I can remember Cyberspouse ‘asking Jeeves’ when he wanted to look something up. Poor Jeeves, I wonder if he knew Google was looking over his shoulder?

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  2. I used computers at work starting in the 1980s, but didn’t go online at home until 2010, and my reason for doing it then was in order to publish my books. That was when I started blogging too, and can’t imagine being off line now.

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    1. Hello Audrey, yes I think most people need a good reason to be on line. When I started writing I subscribed to a monthly paper writing magazine and it was a while before I realised how much more I could find out and do on line.

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  3. At home, I began with a Sinclair Spectrum in 1985, moved to an Atari ST in 1990, and began a series of PCs in 1997. I’ve since moved on to Apple, though I do still have a Windows PC. I first began using them at work since 1993. I can’t imagine life without one nowadays, especially in current circumstances.

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  4. I filled in the census form online, and was surprised by how detailed the questions were. I used my last job before retirement as my occupation, but as I will have no descendants, it doesn’t really matter.

    I first used a computer in late 1999, when they were installed in Ambulance Stations in London. The younger staff were around to show us how to do it, but I didn’t have an email address until late 2000. I bought a Dell laptop in 2004, and spent the day at a friends house so he could show me how to use Windows XP. It cost me over £1,500 at the time, and represented a huge part of my income.

    I only had basic dial-up for years, and it took so long to display a photo, I could go and have a bath while I waited for it to appear.

    Now we have super-fast fibre-optic broadband, and I get frustrated when something doesn’t appear immediately! 🙂

    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Pete, yes I wouldn’t have had the patience to cope with the early days of computers. Cyberspouse managed to buy second hand off friends till one day we bought a brand new one – for the sake of the children as all dads used to say – it was buy now, pay in a year – £1000 – I was very doubtful. When the year was up we were moving house again and we took out a new mortgage that covered all our debts including the computer!

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    1. I still like real newspapers, I spend enough time on screens. the young dad next door asked if I read real newspapers, turned out he needed some to light his wood burning stove!

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  5. I remember being very excited to buy our first computer for the office in about 1988. Running my own business, there was little difference between work and home – but I didn’t wrap my head round the internet until the late ’90s and still struggle. I’ve never been on a course and learn as I go; I think the whole thing is amazing (though dangerous) and periodically wonder what mum and dad would make of it all!

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    1. New toy for your office, definitely something to be excited about. My father once said he we like to live to a hundred just to see what has been invented. That would be 2025 and we’re not far off. He died in 1996 but if he had lived I think he would have liked a computer My mother only just died last year and avoided computers but enjoyed Facetime with my sisters’s help.

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