Class conscious

Computer salespeople would have you believe that, as the ushers-in of a technological utopia, they're outside social and financial norms. In fact, they are shopkeepers with shopkeepers' values.

This occurred to me when I recently took my Toshiba 1800 laptop into a computer shop and asked the spaced-out Antipodean behind the counter whether it was likely to survive the arrival of the year 2000. The man was surrounded by new computers labelled "Year 2000 compliant", and he knew that if he answered "no" to my question, I'd buy a new laptop off him. He answered "no".

Actually, I'd resolved to replace my old machine already. The Toshiba 1800 is portable, but only if you're strong. It is about as heavy, noisy and likely to facilitate surfing of the web as an old Imperial typewriter. At the London Library (number of non-middle-class members: zero), elegantly dressed, mysteriously wealthy belle lettristes were starting to look up from their own state-of-the-art machines to frown at me as I used it.

There used to be a time - last year, say - when, if you were technically backwards, you were looked on as charmingly fogeyish (providing you were middle class, of course), but these days people's conversation becomes rather terse if you ask them to start fishing around for their long-forgotten fax numbers.

So I bought a new, more modern Toshiba (which was ridiculously expensive and malfunctions frequently) and got myself on the net - although not before long class-conscious deliberations about who should be the service provider, which is, of course, enshrined in one's Internet address. This address is important. I have one friend whose address ends "", which is a bit naff; another is on with "Yahoo!" which I think lacks gravitas. I eventually went with Virgin, which is respectable yet moderately funky.

Most websites, I've found, are full of spelling mistakes and exclamation marks. I believe there's a literate online magazine called Salon, but when I type in that word I just get a lot of hairdressers in Texas. On the whole I feel no excitement about being on the net, just a certain satisfaction in having met the newest criterion of middle-classness.

This article first appeared in the 01 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - David Ramsbotham