Saturday, 6 June 2020

Milton Dreams - The City That Never Was - Chapter Sixteen

CHAPTER SIXTEEN - This Will Never Catch On
Americans may try to claim different but the world knows Britain invented the computer and it happened in Bletchley Park. World famous Bletchley Park, perhaps we should have The City of Bletchley rather than The City of Milton Keynes ! Sound's good don't you think ? Right then, let me take my tongue out of my cheek and tell you about something I seriously never thought would catch on.

As a preamble to the main part of my story please join me at a staff meeting in Leon School, I was then a junior member of staff and Mr D B Bradshaw was headmaster. Mr Bradshaw was explaining to the meeting that there was a sum of money left in the budget for the year, if it was not spent then Buckinghamshire County Council would claw it back. Did anyone have any ideas how it could be spent ?  I spoke up and suggested the school could buy a computer. Headmaster Bradshaw immediately poured scorn on my thinking. What a stupid idea ! If the council saw that happening it would say we hard far too much money, money to waste and would cut our budget for the coming year !

Later in my career at Leon, by this time I had become head of year, I was talking to a young teenager who was possibly the most intelligent student in the entire school. I was trying to support him through a difficult situation so ours was quite a long and deep conversation. While talking he said to me that the day would come when every home in the country would have a computer of its own.  This young man may have been the most intelligent student in the school but what a silly thing to say. It was never going to happen.

It was Prime Minister Harold Wilson who founded The Open University. Based at Walton Hall it was a ground breaking concept in education.  I am sure that Harold Wilson would have seen The Open University as part of the plan for The New City of Milton Keynes to become a city in its own right. My parents-in-law were married at Walton Church which was later decommissioned as a church to became part of The Open University. The other evening I watched the film of the play Educating Rita starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine, Rita was an Open University Student.  I am rambling, forgive me let me get on with the story.

The Open University held a one day course pulling together different parts of society in The New City Of Milton Keynes. I was the education representative. A friend of mine was there representing the police. His name was Alan, we sat together at a square of tables upon each which was placed a giant computer monitor. Do you remember when computers used green lettering on a black background ? Such were these state of the art computers we were about to use.

The professor began speaking, I can remember his words so clearly. You may have heard of something called The World Wide Web. Had we ? British scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, no America you did not invent the internet, gave us The World Wide Webb. So I am assuming this all happened some time in 1990. Well, the professor continued, I am going to teach you all how to send letters using the world wide web we are calling this electronic mail.

We were all told how to make this extremely difficult and scientifically complex electronic letter system work. We were then told to send an electronic letter to the person sitting next to us, I tried and failed to send an electronic letter to Policeman Alan. Policeman Alan tried and failed to send a message to me. Everyone in the room tried and failed to send an electronic letter.

I don't see the point, I explained, if I want to speak to someone I telephone them.

But what if they are not by the phone to answer you ?

At work I have a secretary and at home I have an answer machine.

But with this, the professor defended, you can attach a document.

We had not, none of us, managed to send a single message saying HI let alone attach a three volume novel.

Have you never heard of a fax machine ? I said sarcastically. Everyone in the room save the professor agreed with me.

How old are you reading this ?  How many of you know what a fax machine is ?  If you are under thirty then you were born into a world before the internet and what became e-mail. Jimmy Carter was elected to the White House in 1993 and left office in 2001. I remember him saying that when he became president there was no such thing as a website when he left nobody could live without them. I wonder if there is a fax machine in The Science Museum.

Have you never heard of a fax machine ? I said sarcastically. Everyone in the room save the professor agreed with me.

Trust me, I added, this will never catch on !

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