We may live in a consumerist society but IÕve never considered that I lived in a consumerist home. My children were raised on educational toys and chunky Brio train sets and not spoiled with material possessions. Yes, my shoe collection is almost museum quality, but I possess the barest minimum of consumer durables. I mean, doesnÕt everyone have a dishwasher, a dryer, a washing machine and a double fridge/freezer? And surely we all have a Dyson, a DVD player and well, these days; a mobile phone is a necessity, not a luxury. Well, so said the children, bemoaning the fact that they were the only kids in their respective classes who hadnÕt yet been mugged for their mobile phones Š primarily because they didnÕt have one to begin with. Eventually, I succumbed and arrived home clutching a brace of Pay as You Go phones, on the basis that they probably wouldnÕt Š theyÕd run out of dosh and the lure of swapping inane text messages with the people they sit next to at school all day would wear off resulting in a rediscovery of the alternative joys of face to face speech. Only when the phones began to ring all at the same time did the awful truth dawn on me. We were a family with five mobile phones, three BT and NTL land lines for fax, voice and modem, two answer machines and five further handsets each with their own extension. We have more telephones than most small businesses. Another glance around the home revealed more horrible technological truths Š we also have five computers; a pair of matching his and her laptops for blue moon business trips, a Mac for the kids to chat on Microsoft Messenger whist ostensibly doing homework, another for me to write on, and a PC for fatherÕs freelance career as a news surfer.
Then there are the, gulp, six television sets, the digibox, the satellite dish, the various games consoles, the game boys, six CD players with integrated tape decks and radios, one DVD player (if you donÕt count the facility on all the computers as well as the PlayStation II), more portable stereos than you can, physically, carry, one record player and a set of mixing decks. Help, weÕre turning Japanese.
In my defence there are six people living in the house, but nevertheless we have managed to amass more electronic consumables than a branch of Dixons, in about ten percent of the floor space. But the real reason the booty roll call is so high is not because we are spendthrift technophiles but because of two factors Š built in obsolescence and inherited parsimony. I simply canÕt bring myself to throw anything out as long as the red light still comes on when you plug it in. As a result, only of the two laptops works properly Š the older of the two has a broken lid held on with duct tape, and the Mac IÕm writing this on has been in the house since 1993, and is so basic that itÕs little more than a glorified typewriter with pretensions. I only have two freezers because the old one was too good to throw out when I bought an integrated model - and of course it might come in handy should there be a world shortage of ice cubes. All the televisions were moved down the family pecking order with the arrival of a newer fully-operational model. None get channel 5 Š worth keeping for that alone, and one is black and white, which I got for my eighteenth birthday 26 years ago. ItÕs probably an antique. Two of the CD players jump, all of the tape decks eat cassettes, and only one of the answer phones is audible. Some of these problems could be remedied, but thereby lies another problem Š IÕve lost all the manuals and instruction booklets. I have no idea how to use the timer on the oven, or how to change the outgoing message on the answer phone, set the VCR on either of the three video recorders, and though all the stereo equipment has an alarm clock facility no one knows how to program it so we wake up every day to a wind up alarm clock with Homer Simpson on the front. Duh, you might very well say.
Yep, the consumables may be durable but the ability to operate them is fleeting. Together with an itemÕs built in technological obsolescence comes the obsolescence of knowledge. Back in the far off days of my first Amstrad I could program the machine to do everything but stand up and salute me every morning. Now my brain canÕt keep up with technology and IÕve run out of manual steam. Of the thirteen programmes on my washer/dryer I use only one. It may have fuzzy logic, but IÕm just plain fuzzy.
So, after all, weÕre a modern, materialist technological home Š we have an ISDN line, a dedicated internet connection, six e-mail addresses, a fax, a photocopier, more machines in the kitchen than NASA, but fuzziest of all we have no bloody toilet paper.