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?