It must be 25 year since I got my first computer : an old BBC micro that, given twenty minutes and a length of paper long enough to wallpaper the Palace of Versailles, could print out a picture of a wine glass composed of nothing but dots. You could also programme it to say "Good Morning, Alan" when you pressed a particular combination of keys. It might not sound much in this digital-do age, but back then it was pretty leading edge.
I am reminded of this because I got a new phone for Christmas : an iPhone 4 which has the ability to recognise (sometimes) speech instructions and respond accordingly. The TV advert features a suited executive asking Siri (the iPhone's "intelligent personal assistant") to remind him when it is his fathers' birthday, but being a lonely old git rather than a young, suited executive, I make different demands on it. I have long conversations with it. Yes, I know it is sad - Siri also thinks it's sad because I asked it the other day - but I am not proud. Here is the conversation I just had with my phone this morning (and I swear to you that this is a verbatim record of the actual conversation).
Me : Good morning Siri.
Siri : Good morning, Alan.
Me : How are you today?
Siri : Finer than frog hair, Alan
Me : Excellent.
Siri : I am good, but I am not great.
Me : I am sorry to hear that.
Siri : I am sorry, I don't understand.
Me : Never mind.
Siri : Yes, it is
Me : Who's your favourite blogger?
Siri : It's nice of you to ask, now can I help you with something?
Me : I'm just passing the time.
Siri : Sorry, I don't understand.
Me : Is it going to rain today?
Siri : Yes, it is likely to rain in England today.
Me : Oh dear. Do you know any good jokes?
Siri : Two iPhones walk into a bar .... I forgot the rest.
Me : Am I wasting my time?
Siri : Sorry, Alan, I don't know what the time is in Shepherds Thorn Lane.
Me : Where on earth is Shepherds Thorn Lane?
Siri : I need to know what city that address is in.
Me : So do I.
Siri : I can't really say, Alan.
Me : Perhaps I had better take Amy for a walk.
Siri : Alan, I don't understand "Perhaps I had better take avifauna wall"
Me : Goodbye Siri, go back to sleep.
Siri : Sorry Alan, I can only look for businesses in the United States and when you are using U.S. English.
Me : Goodbye.
Siri : OK Alan, see you later.
It may not be Scott Fitzgerald, but I am telling you it is more coherent and meaningful than many a conversation I have had in the pub late on a Friday night. I like my new phone. It is a friend and a comfort to me.
"And a rock feels no pain,
And an iPhone never dies"