Mark Andrews: A nation divided by technology?

According to the Daily Mirror, somebody has just paid £19,000 for a computer game which normally retails for £449.

While report after report talks about the economic damage caused by the coronavirus, it seems that for some people money is still no object when it comes to getting their hands on the latest technology.

When the XBox X went on sale at 8am on Tuesday morning, most retailers sold out within a couple of minutes. Which is odd, because I suspect the majority of people had not even heard of the XBox X until reports emerged of them being sold for extortionate prices. It seems today's touts no longer hang around outside football grounds offering cup final tickets for five times the cover price, they're now trading on Ebay selling electronic games for the price of a very decent secondhand car.

Now I will concede I am at something of a disadvantage in understanding the appeal of the XBox X. given that I don't know exactly what an XBox One is, let alone why it is worth upgrading to the latest version. I assume it is some kind of device you plug into the television and play games on, a 21st century version of Pong, only with slightly better graphics and a wider choice of games. But even so, £19,000 does seem a little steep.

It's not just a one-off, either. While £19,000 is the highest price recorded to date, there are plenty of other sellers advertising them with next-day delivery for £5,000.

It makes you wonder who buys these things. I had always imagined 'gamers' to be young men with greasy hair and a penchant for heavy-metal music, sitting around in their underpants all day killing zombies. But then again, I wouldn't imagine that many people fitting this demographic will have a spare 19 grand knocking about, as all their cash will be spent on Pot Knoodles and Iron Maiden T-shirts.

I suppose the lockdown means that a lot of people are bored with being stuck at home, but I can't help but think that a DVD box-set of The Professionals is a more affordable – and entertaining – way of killing time.

What it does bring home is the way society is divided these days into two groups, those who are fanatical about the latest technology, and those who couldn't care less.

There is a section of the population for whom tech is second nature. They do all their shopping over the internet, they do their banking online, they spend more on a mobile phone than some people do on a holiday, and when they do go away, they spend their entire week uploading their holiday snaps onto Instamatic, or whatever it's called.

Then there are people who just don't get it, or if they do get it, they don't trust it. There are plenty of folk around who still haven't worked out how to set the timer on the Sony Betamax.

I broadly fall into the latter category. I'm not a total Luddite, by any means. I find sat-nav invaluable, I use the internet every day at work, and I couldn't live without my microwave. Hey, these days I've even got a large-screen television, although I have to say Bodie and Doyle don't really look any better on 32in HD than they did on the cathode ray tube.

But while I'm happy to use technology to make life easier, I'm not going to take an interest in it for its own sake. And I'm certainly not going to throw money down the drain just to slavishly keep up to date with the latest trends. I've never owned an iPod, I've never watched Netflix, and my TV is strictly Freeview only. And spending £700 on a mobile phone, when you can get a Nokia for £30, seems faintly ridiculous.

Unfortunately for us, it seems that it is the techies who are in the ascendancy at the moment. It's why, when I tried to phone several local councils this week, nearly every one of them expected me to work my way through endless automated menus. There were regularly interrupted by messages telling me I should really give up trying to speak to a human being, and use the council website instead. Which is admittedly less of a problem for somebody like myself, who has access to the internet and is just about semi compute-literate. But for the millions of people who aren't, particularly the elderly, this must be infuriating.

The same divisions are apparent when you listen to radio phone-ins about the lockdown. For every caller protesting that clothes and household appliances are 'essential items' that people should still be allowed to buy, there is another self-satisfied know-it-all who dismissing their concerns and telling them to just 'shop online' instead.

I suppose a lot of that is the tribal nature of society at the moment. You have to be on one side or the other. Even the American presidential election, an event in a country 4,000 miles away, seems to have people at one another's throats for some reason. Social media is awash with people angrily identifying themselves as Team Biden or Team Trump and declaring their distaste for the other lot, even though nobody in Dudley or Shrewsbury has any real skin in this game.

The answer, of course, is that we all need to listen to one another more. To get outside our own narrow bubbles, and take a genuine interest in people who might have a different point of view.

Trouble is, that is nigh-on impossible when the only ways people communicate are through websites, emails and automated telephone systems.

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