There are brilliant old editions of Tomorrow’s World from the 1960s, where scientists predict that by the beginning of the 21st century everyone will have household robots. Hilarious mock-ups of such helpful companions are shown bumbling around, looking like especially shit Doctor Who adversaries.
There’s a classic April Fools’ gag in old Saturday morning gopher-fest Going Live, where Philip Schofield claims he has a device which can play any song ever recorded. Kids call in to request a song, and the soon-to-be-silver fox pretends to activate the device, whereupon the tune miraculously plays. The whole thing is fake, of course – simply queued-up music being piped through the studio speakers – but looking back, this bit of make-believe turned out to be very similar to the iPod.
One more prediction of the future was the paperless office, but while this seemed so obvious given the advent of computers, it has proven to be a ludicrously unfulfilled ideal. Sitting in work at the moment, it feels like a bigger lie than the Iraq War, Leon Jackson’s career, and Adam Boulton’s impartiality combined. It was a great idea in theory. Everything would be stored on computer, records held on servers, and no one would ever have to print anything out every again. The need for paper would be no more. What a revolution! The reality is sadly different. In fact, the amount of bureaucracy – legal, official and unofficial – has greatly increased over the past few years, with paper copies of everything usually required. I’m currently running payroll year-ends for various clients, part of which involves sending paper copies of P60s to every single employee. In the past couple of days, I’ve personally addressed over 200 envelopes. The payroll records as a whole have to be kept for several years, and that’s a lot of paper. One of our clients has a garage filled with the stuff. My own loft has a section for payroll storage. Forests are reduced to writing tearful IOUs to Viking (on recycled paper, of course). When will it end?
Maybe this great office revolution will eventually happen as intended. Maybe all books and newspapers will end up on e-readers. Maybe email greeting cards will one day mean as much as the physical variety. For now, though, our great technological advances have led to even more paper being used than before. It just doesn’t compute. And we still don’t have any bloody robots.