Karen Kay on a few megabytes of misery

PUBLISHED: 15:51 29 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:51 29 September 2014

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto


Girly geek Karen downloads her woes about being left fuming by the snail’s pace of her own technological revolution, having been ahead of the game

I absolutely love technology and embrace gadgets with a passion many reserve for a new pair of sassy heels (though I’m not going to pretend I don’t love those with equal measure) or their football team of choice (nah, doesn’t do it for me).

In the trade, I’m known as an ‘early adopter’. Amongst friends, I’m a girly geek. I can carry an entire London A-Z, the inventory of every high street store, correspondence from my loved ones and work communications, plus novels, my music library, flight-booking systems, train timetables, and much, much more in pocket.

Hurrah for Apps! Those marvelous little buttons with the power to steer you from A to B, or to have an entire new outfit delivered within hours, or a holiday booked.

It’s hard to believe they didn’t exist a decade ago. How our lives have changed since the advent of smartphones, eh? Those shrunken computers that allow us to run entire companies in the palm of our hands, from an island in the Pacific. Heaven knows what we did before they existed. Yes, life was different. Better? Some say so. But, I disagree.

As a self-employed writer, the advent of mobile communications has been liberating. When I first started out in my career way back in the 20th century, my parents helped by investing in an electric typewriter that boasted a staggering four megabyte memory: this basic ‘word processing’ marvel allowed me to erase whole lines of text without the need for whitening fluid. But I still had to use the reference library in Chesham (whose opening hours weren’t convenient for journalists on overnight deadlines, though I can hardly blame them). I had to phone people and sit by my desk in the vain hope they might respond to the answer machine message I’d left.

In 1994, by then working as a regular contributor to many national newspapers, I bought an Apple Performa desktop computer, and was one of the few freelance journalists to have an email address. At that point, none of the major ‘Fleet Street’ papers could accept submissions via email: instead, I printed my pieces and faxed them, or sent a floppy disk if it wasn’t an urgent piece ‘on edition’. If I was writing on location, I had to dictate to a ‘copytaker’ via a phone box.

Then, I bought a Psion 5, and could send and received emails ‘on the road’. ‘How could I afford such advanced technology?’ all my contemporaries asked, shocked at my extravagance. “I can’t afford not to,” I replied. Such technology paid for itself in weeks and made my enterprise far more profitable than had seemed possible. Mobile technology meant I could head to the supermarket when it was quiet, knowing I wasn’t missing out on commissions. I could go to the hairdresser during ‘office hours’, comfortable in the knowledge I could be reached if necessary, and write a piece for the next day’s paper while my highlights were done. I was buying new bras in Marks and Spencer when the call came from a literary agent to write my first book. Yay! Needless to say, I upgraded to the silk version and bought both colours.

But here’s the rub. I believe my investment in the latest kit reaps rich rewards. Everything is more streamlined, and I’m more productive. I’m ahead of the competition, and can respond to the demands of my industry effectively. So why aren’t our government doing the same?

Why, when I live 30 miles from one of the busiest capital cities in Europe, can I not get a mobile phone signal at home? It’s absurd. I’ve tried all the major networks and they’re all erratic. I bought a signal booster but it needs decent data bandwidth to work. I live in a digital black hole. Why am I not able to benefit from reliable high speed broadband when I’m sitting at my desk, battling with a 5Mbps download speed (and less than 1Mbps upload) at best?

Our politicians seem to think that to compete on the international stage, and boost our economy, we need to move from one end of the country to the other on a fast train. We don’t. We need to support home workers, kitchen table enterprises, small businesses, workers on the move, with world class digital comms that support these fabulous gadgets and software innovations. We have talented entrepreneurs gagging to get their e-commerce sites and online services to an international audience. But with what feels like medieval bandwith, they’re being overtaken by countries that have invested in 21st century technologies, not industrial revolution ones. We should be able to run businesses from a beach in Cornwall or a cottage in the Chilterns. But we’re being held back by a short-sighted government stuck in the analogue era.

Right now, Britain is like a Michelin-starred chef without a waiter to serve up the food.


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