He owns the second ever Macintosh computer sold in Europe, and has never met a smartphone he hasn’t bought. To introduce his new column, Stephen Fry explains why he’s deeply dippy for all things digital
Digital devices rock my world. This might be looked on by some as a tragic admission. Not ballet, opera, the natural world, Stephen? Not literature, theatre or global politics? Even sport would be less mournfully inward and dismally unsociable.
Well, people can be dippy about all things digital and still read books, they can go to the opera and watch a cricket match and apply for Led Zeppelin tickets without splitting themselves asunder. Very little is as mutually exclusive as we seem to find it convenient to imagine. In our culture we are becoming more and more fixated with an “it’s one thing or the other” mentality. You like Thai food? But what’s wrong with Italian? Woah, there… calm down. I like both. Yes. It can be done. I can like rugby football and the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. High Victorian Gothic and the installations of Damien Hirst. Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and the piano works of Hindemith. English hymns and Richard Dawkins. First editions of Norman Douglas and iPods. Snooker, darts and ballet. Such a list isn’t a boast, it doesn’t make one an all-rounder to rival Michelangelo, it’s how humans are constructed. Adaptable, varied, versatile. So, believe me, a love of gizmos doesn’t make me averse to paper, leather and wood, old-fashioned Christmases, Preston Sturges films and country walks. Nor does it automatically mean I read Terry Pratchett, breathe only through my mouth and bring my head slightly too close to the bowl when I eat soup. (None of the above, I grant you, excuses a 50-year-old for saying that anything “rocks his world”; that’s just too horrid and must stop.)
I blogged on my (this) website a few weeks ago explaining my long-standing passion for all kinds of gizmos. I have never met a smartphone I haven’t bought, I wrote. And so now, all juiced up by that experience, I am to bring to you every week in this paper a technology column of sorts, in which I will attempt to share my passion for the new; to review, rave over and ramble on about the latest arrivals in the field of digiware, and occasionally to stand back and survey the field.
When WH Auden produced his collection of critical writings, The Dyer’s Hand, he first laid out a list of his preferences and predispositions, believing it right that the reader should know what sort of person they were encountering and be able thereby to form a judgment of his opinions in the light of his prejudices. I ought to do the same.
It is true that I have a great admiration, sometimes only just short of reverence, for the elegances and brilliances that have emerged from my favourite address in the world: 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California, the home of Apple Computers. I am lucky enough to count their chief designer, boy genius Jonathan Ive, as a friend. I bought the second Macintosh sold in Europe back in 1984 (Douglas Adams bought the first). I currently have about 10 on the go. But I also have more than one PC. I could not pursue my love of the digital without those, too. And it certainly would not be fair or right for me to expatiate on technology without a proper understanding of the operating system employed by more than 90% of all users. I run Windows XP and Vista. Linux, too, in different distributions, including Mark Shuttleworth’s increasingly popular Ubuntu, although I also take Red Hat’s Fedora and Yellow Dog out for a run from time to time. It is very important to me that you believe that I will be as impartial as I can be in the great schism that has riven computing since the mid-80s. You might be amused by Umberto Eco’s writing on this subject if you don’t already know it: simongrant.org/web/eco.html.
What do I think is the point of a digital device? Is it all about function? Or am I a “style over substance” kind of a guy? Well, that last question will get my hackles up every time. As if style and substance are at war! As if a device can function if it has no style. As if a device can be called stylish that does not function superbly. Don’t get me started …