03 April 2010


A few weeks back, I was observing a focus group of folks around 20 years old. It turns out that a lot of them bring their laptops with them everywhere. (This is no longer geeky. Hmmm.) As an aside, one of them described the iPad as puzzling, “a laptop for old people.”

Laughter behind the glass.

Take it away, Nick Sweeney:

When I was seven, my dad built me a bed, taking inspiration from a drawing in an old woodworking magazine, scavenging the wood, cutting it to fit the lean in the room. It had three drawers and cupboard space beneath for the games and toys and books I steadily acquired, as well as the growing pile of tapes for my ZX Spectrum.

Around the same time, he carved me a miniature cricket bat the length of my middle finger, notching a V, varnishing it, winding cotton for the handle grip. It’s a precious thing to me.

He has built sheds, paved patios, dug out ponds, knocked out walls, fit gas fires, tied flies — and that’s just in his spare time.

My dad is a maker.

In his twenties, my dad bought a tenor banjo. It’s a beautiful thing: ivory buttons, inlaid mother-of-pearl on the head and fretboard, vellum skin, a duster stuffed behind to keep down the volume. Looking online some years ago, I found a site devoted to vintage banjos, which told me a little about its age and history and the journey it had taken over nearly a century of existence. I told this to my dad, and he was thrilled; I printed out the pages and posted them, because computers remain a mystery to him.

Last year he told me that the screws from a couple of the tuners had broken; finding replacements was difficult, because that gauge wasn’t made any more in Britain. I registered at a banjo forum, asked for help, and within days a kind person from New York not only told me the gauge I needed, but sent a bag of screws that I posted on to my dad. They were a perfect fit. When I described how I got them, I might as well have been telling him that aliens landed in the garden and left them behind.

A couple of Christmases back, I called my parents, who were staying with my sister and her family. Could I speak to my dad, I asked? I’ll give him a shout, said my mother, but he’s been playing on the Wii with the kids from the moment they switched it on.

I finally spoke to him, surprised by what I’d heard. “Bloody marvellous, son.”

When I look at the iPad, I see something my dad could use without hand-holding to find the history of that banjo, to seek out those screws, to look at old video of Sonny Terry, to feed his glorious practical creativity, unencumbered by the need to learn the habits and quirks of computing, and not relying upon a transatlantic support department.

There’s a liberation in open things (and opening things) but there’s a far greater one in how things can open up people.

A laptop for old people. Damn straight.

Sorry, Cory. I still love ya—and bless you for fighting against DRM and in favour of sane intellectual property—but this time you're wrong. I don't want to take a screwdriver to my computer, or to read its schematics; I just want the damned thing to work properly.

No comments: