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I've done jobs within one or other of the various media for most of my working life; I was a television film editor at some point before a twist of fate inexplicably turned me into the editor of a computer journal, and so, as Han Solo would say, I've been around, seen it all. There's a trite phrase about not believing everything you read in newspapers, so because of my background I'm among the privileged who know you should not believe everything you see or hear on television either. Recently, the press and television have had a field day with Sir Clive Sinclair's uneven fortunes, and whatever sensible arguments they put forward, the lack of knowledgable speculation, the accumulation of corrupted data and missed points undermines the basis of those arguments and turns the Sinclair coverage into a typical British Genius-bashing event. If you are going to pillory somebody, it's wise to have a good aim. I don't expect the Sunday Times Business Section to comment blandly on the £ millions of unsold Spectrum computer stock in shops without having the acumen to look into the reasons for instance. The Sunday Times didn't bother to mention that by lowering the price of the Spectrum+ to that of the heavily stocked ordinary Spectrum, Sinclair effectively left retailers holding thousands of computers they could no longer sell. Quite naturally, many turned round and refused to order the Spectrum+ until their existing stocks had sold - result: stagnation. It's not the only reason for Sinclair's current problems of course, but you would expect a 'venerable' paper to have dug that simple fact out. Of course, even in the business press, it's much more fun to simply argue that the arrogant whizz kid has at long last overstepped the mark and, as in any good Graeco-British tragedy, is getting his deserved come-uppance.
The Sunday Times also [ran] an article on Sir Clive, and in the intro suggested that it's a pity the really important aspects of Sinclair should have to be funded by the 'less imaginative' like the Spectrum computer. You might expect to see this sort of garbage written by a compu-luddite (check Lloyd Mangram's long word dictionary), and therefore it's upsetting to see that it is co-written by Jane Bird, who should know more and better after her stint on the editorial staff of one of the biggest computer magazines.
However, by comparison, Bryan Appleyard, writing in The Times (April 9th), verges on the psychotic in From jargon yawn to techno porn - a romp through the micro mags. The article is written with an almost Swiftian self-disgust of his own body, which seems out of context with the subject matter until you read lines like, 'Finally, down in the world of Mega Demos, self-disgust is born. The hideous ads, the ghastly, breathless prose, the do-it-yourself programming with its relentless militarism - this is the dead-end world of techno porn.' He's talking about computer specific magazines - 'This dedicating of a magazine to a single product is bizarre in the extreme.' Really Bryan? Perhaps you were so turned on by the sexual self-loathing the reading of (it would seem to be) Your Spectrum aroused that you failed to notice that the computer is only one of hundreds of products single-user magazines are concerned about. Not only is Appleyard's piece confused and pointless, but it's very tone turns it into the sort of techno porn he's attacking - a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Turning to television, the picture doesn't really improve much. TV has simply failed to come to terms with the home computer and seems positively annoyed that the biggest aspect is games playing. Consequently, much of the very little air time is given to the 'proper' (ie serious) use of computers, and when it comes to doing something lively (ie games) a lack of knowledge, interest and competence takes over splendidly. Thames TV has a computer games slot at some point. I know because one of their researchers rang us to ask whether we could supply some names of 13 year-olds to 'test' a new game. The game was World Series Baseball by Ocean / Imagine. When I said I knew of the game (it was unreleased at the time), she seemed surprised and then asked me if I knew anything about this Ocean, were they a reputable firm? My turn to be surprised - I should have thought a TV researcher would know the answers to such obvious questions like that, after all, it would only take a few days of reading techno porn to absorb a little of the jargon yawn. How can you be good at putting something across on the little screen if you know absolutely nothing useful about it?
The trouble with TV is lack of time (unless you're a snooker fan), everything must be done at a rush and it absorbs, partially digests and regurgitates information with the brain barely engaged. This may explain TVAM's new computers with breakfast programme (reviewed by John Minson and Graeme Kidd in News Input this issue) but it doesn't explain how television generally steamrollers our lives away with sheer incompetence and misinformation.
And nothing, beyond media envy or sherr human small-mindedness, explains why TV and press prefer to knock instead of sport. The more entrepeneurial you are, the more mistakes you are likely to make - and Sir Clive has made his share, there are good reasons to carp; but writing so much success off with journalistic enthusiasm for chasing the fox at bay has nothing to do with reporting facts (supposedly a function of the media). Generally, the media's attitude to do with computers is one of fear - and we always ridicule what we fear.
PROGRAMS REVIEWED IN THIS ISSUE