Sunday, 4 March 2018

Visions Of The Future

Visions Of The Future

We are currently in the early stages of working on Episode 20, but today we pretty much nailed down the shows we intend to cover in Episode 21. Yes, believe it or not we do try and plan ahead from time to time... Now, we all know that predicting the future is always a risky business, which is why 'The Computer Programme' (originally broadcast in 1982) makes such fascinating viewing in 2018.

The series itself was was simply a small part of a major BBC project to encourage and develop computer literacy in the UK as part of Information Technology Year. If you were at school in the early 1980s, you would certainly be familiar with the BBC micro, but today the idea of actually programming computers seems to be a long-forgotten skill.

What interests me is the way the show attempts to make predictions of how society will change with the increasing influence of computers on our lives. In its day, the idea that you could link up with computers up and down the country via the telephone line seemed to be the most exciting thing imaginable. But there are whole areas of our modern lives that we now take for granted that weren't even considered at the time.

Presented by one newcomer (Chris Serle) and one expert (Ian McNaught-Davis), it's designed to welcome the novice on board. Sometimes the production team are allowed outside to film some illustrative material at Hampton Court maze (with K9) or at the Dorset Steam Fair where Mac seems to be very enthusiastic when he catches sight of a large organ.

One of my favourite sequences is shot on the Isle of Wight at Blackgang Chine park. To show the use of the telegraph in the Wild West, the crew pay a visit to the pretend frontier town where Mac gets to show off his favourite leather chaps when having a natter with an inanimate telegraph operator voiced by David Graham, doing his best 'Gunfighters' voice.

For someone that lived through that period of innovation in computer technology, it's a reminder of how things changed with dizzying rapidity. It may seem hopelessly antiquated now, but in those days a 5-inch floppy was pretty impressive stuff.

What they could never have predicted, however, was that we'd be sitting at home with a handheld tablet, streaming the data to our smart TV and then recording and editing a podcast article that would be uploaded to the internet, with listeners all around the world.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" as Arthur C Clarke's Third Law says. And I can't argue with that!

(By Andrew Trowbridge)

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