Belfast Telegraph

Robert McNeill: Inspector Google’s great, but don’t watch Wallander online

Many of you will have heard of the internet. For those who have not, I’m unsure how to describe it. Put it this way: it’s big and it’s taking over our lives. I realise that's the sort of definition Baldrick might have made had he been adding ‘internet’ to Johnson’s Dictionary.

Blackadder-lovers will recall Baldrick’s definition of sea: “Big, blue, wobbly thing.’’

However, when I say the internet is big and taking over our lives, I should add: it’s also rubbish. You are reeling back in your chairs. But bear with me on this.

I know the internet is wonderful. Boon to the journalist, for a start. Time was, when you were away somewhere on a story and needed to check something, you phoned the paper’s library, and they went away to find physical cuttings in folders, which they’d then photocopy and fax to your hotel.

You’d then have to amble down to reception, waddle back up to your room, and type up or write out the information you needed from the cutting. Now we just Google it.

The internet is great. There’s stuff to watch on YouTube, instant news updates, and chat forums where your view that the human race is incorrigibly nasty is verified in seconds.

And, yet, the internet is simultaneously rubbish. How come? Because lots of things on it simply don’t work. You splutter: “Give us examples, you bearded nincompoop!” All right, I will. And don’t call me bearded.

Exhibit A: despite my current boycott of all things Swedish — well, its prosecution service at any rate — I decided to watch Wallander on the so-called iPlayer. Great.

It actually went quite smoothly for four minutes before the screen froze, with the exception of a wee circly thing going round and round. And round and round.

And you get the picture — which is more than I did.

Exhibit B: I’ve an internet radio thing on my iPhone. Walking home from a friend’s house, about 15 minutes away, the sound went off 32 times.

I remember, in the 1960s, people taking portable radios to football matches. They never went off. It’s called progress. You wouldn’t understand.

Exhibit C: ‘Daily’ news sites — often unconnected to newspapers — that haven't been updated since 1902. And I don't mean two minutes past seven. You find these sites way behind the printed papers — properly updated, as you’d expect — which have been in the shops for six hours. You wouldn’t buy yesterday’s paper in the newsagent, would you?

Then there are the mechanics of reading online. Imagine if your print edition of the newspaper froze and you couldn't open the page for several minutes.

I could go on: ‘upgrades’ that always make things worse; pop-up adverts that obscure what you’re trying to read; endless marketing emails from companies you bought a piece of string from online three years ago.

I repeat again: the internet is wonderful and rubbish. I realise it'll all be sorted soon and that, in 50 years' time, top historical researchers will say: “We'd better see what Robert McNeill was writing about the internet in 2010. He was usually perceptive and wise. Oh no, he was saying it was rubbish. What a berk.”

But I stand by my thesis. Too often, the best way to describe the internet is: instant slowness.

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