Eddie Mair: My technology hell

James Burke’s vision of 2053 has one fatal flaw, says Eddie Mair

In last week’s column I regaled you with news of my encounter with James Burke, and how, back in 1973 for Radio Times, Mr Burke had correctly predicted how our lives would change. In my recent interview with him, he cast his eyes 40 years ahead to a world where nano technology renders humans autonomous, without a need for governments or nation states. With a kind of souped-up 3D printer we will be able to create literally anything in our own homes. It was a mind-boggling few minutes.

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This week I want to bring you a little of the background detail of what went on in the PM office shortly before the great scientist and futurologist arrived to record his interview foretelling human mastery of technology.

Me (to Amanda, top PM editor-type): “Amanda, I want to print off that 1973 Radio Times cover to show to James. Do you think I can just print it on the normal printer?”

Amanda: “Yes, darling.” (Amanda and I are not romantically involved. She calls everyone darling. She also seems to know a lot about how things work, which is why I’m asking her.)

To my surprise, I successfully print the page. Me, triumphantly: “I’ve done it!” 

Amanda: “But it’s in black and white, darling. Don’t you want it in colour?”

Me: “Does that printer print in colour?”

Amanda: “No, darling, you need the Big Printer next to the bins.” (Several minutes pass while Amanda describes how to find the Big Printer, which it turns out has been hiding in plain sight ten yards away. Several more minutes pass while I locate the Big Printer on my computer screen, and then, with a flourish, press a button to make it print my page in colour.

I make my way to the Big Printer and wait for it to do its colourful thing. One minute later I am back at Amanda’s desk.

Me: “It’s broken. It says I need some kind of code? I mean, what’s the point?”

Amanda, smiling but with a hint of weariness: “Did you use your pass, darling? All the Big Printers need a BBC pass before they’ll work.”

I repeat the computer print command then rush excitedly to the Big Printer, this time brandishing my pass. There’s an error code. Me (back at Amanda’s desk): “Amanda, it’s not working. The technology in this place is hopeless.” (This accompanied by a certain amount of foot stomping. They’re used to it.)

Amanda, with the air of a woman who knew all along that this moment would come: “Shall I try to print it for you, darling?”

Me, simpering: “Would you?”

Moments later, I’m clutching a full- colour print of James Burke’s 1973 RT cover, after a process that took a full 15 minutes and involved no useful action by me. Without Amanda’s expertise, I would have beaten my fists to a pulp on the Big Printer, and sobbed. Still. All’s well that ends well.

At ten to three, Mr Burke himself arrives in the office. I introduce myself and, with some nervous excitement, ask if he’d like to see – in colour – the actual RT front cover from all those years ago.

JB: “No, it’s fine thanks. I saw it online.”


Eddie Mair hosts PM Mon–Fri 5.00pm and iPM Sat 5.45am and 5.00pm Radio 4


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