The theatre department’s storage area (a strange dusty attic space in a converted coach house) was cleared out and ten computers were moved in. Mrs. Hart was an ICT teacher.
In our first lesson with her I was told off for looking out of the real windows as Mrs. Hart demonstrated to us Windows 95 and how to use what looked like a talking box of Pringles, but was actually the UK's first favourite search engine, the irreverent Ask Jeeves.
I was worried that day because I’d found some large planks of wood behind the rugby boots shed, and wanted to use them as part of a tree house my friends and I were building each night after tea. However, I’d foolishly mentioned it at morning break to another boy in the year above, who then promptly said “Ah cool, Fraser can use that in his dam”.
Little did I know that this annoying concept Ask Jeeves was part of a much wider enigma, the internet, a phenomena that would go on to dominate my life, define it, and taking an educated guess - probably one day destroy it.
What Mrs. Hart was trying to show me, tapping a mucky grey mouse with her very varnished fingers, was a tool that I would one day use to promote large companies, broadcast opinions, hurt people and fall in love.
My first thoughts were: Google looks like a box of Cheerios, the acquisition of email@example.com is the coolest thing ever (although who will I ever need to email apart from my friend in Canada?) and the clip art image of a man about to smash a computer with a mallet was quite amusing.
I am not going to blog about how SCARY the internet is, or how we share too much information about ourselves (“Oh the irony” - yawn) and run the risk of being victims to a future data mine. And, I’m not going to fill the Jack of Hearts with concerns about existentialism and whether we’re willingly signing our lives away, plugging ourselves into a matrix.
But how much internet usage is too much?
This evening I Googled ‘How many people are currently living in space?’, inspired by a boy on GrindR who had a rocket as his profile picture, and before I knew it I’d spent two hours reading about space missions, intergalactic wars and catastrophic romance triangles between real astronauts. And like the Milky Way, Wikipedia binges can spiral out of control. I ended up trying to trace a Kit Kat commercial from the late 90s, and discover which fashion designers had used spacesuits in their collections.
I fell asleep on the sofa and dreamt about directing a gay action thriller set in space. The film was produced by Addison Lee. He was a tall Asian gentleman, very good at getting from A to B, but the wall-mounted ashtrays in his house were a bit odd. I woke up, startled, and instantly set about deciphering whether Addison Lee was a real person.
Because I work in digital PR, online strategy is part of my life and so I have an excuse for being online most of the day. Still, in my free time I do this blog, I write my blog for Gay Times, I write a blog for work and more recently, online pieces for The Guardian. I watch pop music videos obsessively on YouTube. I talk to attractive strangers on dating sites. I follow a couple of hundred people on Twitter and I read my friends' blogs. And then of course there’s the free time vortex... that website we practically live on... the F word.
I no longer see things, I photograph them on my iPhone with a view to sharing them online. I don’t think things, I tweet them. What are the side-effects of this almost exclusively online life? If history, literature and knowledge become online entities, then won’t the truth be too easy to edit and erase? Will we reach a saturation point and become post-millenial hippies, camping on a windy desolate beach throughout our sixties in an attempt to bring about some kind of catharsis due to technological over-exposure?
Are we using the internet too much? Is it possible that we don't deserve the knowledge, people, opinions and landscapes that we receive, online gifts that in the past would never have naturally crossed our eyes? Then again, you could say that about anything, like, because I was born in Leicestershire should I be allowed to eat prawns? Should anyone know what the otherside of the world looks like?
Are these tedious questions brought about by a squidgy brain of the digital age? Is it not weird that I get paid to generate hype around illusory projects and immaterial concepts whilst in other countries people have never seen the internet and are pulling ploughs?
Sometimes I miss those childhood evenings spent climbing trees.
I wonder where Mrs. Hart is now?
I remember she once angrily ordered a student called Christian Finney out of her makeshift ICT classroom for being a bully, and told him to go and stand outside the headmaster's office. What he had done was walked up to the girl next to me whilst she was in the middle of some painstakingly girlish game called Granny's Garden, and said “Oh – I wonder what this button does” – and pressed the reset button on the girl’s PC.
I felt sorry for her and thought Finney had been really cruel. Whilst she waited for her computer to restart I kindly let her play Jez Ball with me in multiplayer mode.
Sometimes in meetings today I hear Finney’s cheeky voice in my head and fantasise about walking up to the boardroom computer, declaring "Oh – I wonder what this button does", and then skipping out into the street giggling.
Because what's the difference between standing outside the headmaster's office, and sitting in front of a screen?
In a moment of madness Elton John announces that the internet must be shut down:
How many people are currently in space:
Also - that Vengaboys email account isn't mine, so if you contact if, expect a reply from a strange Brazilian.