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Hilary Fannin: I gradually lost any true sense of time or place and drifted into oblivion

I had an online chat with a robot. Suffice it to say that the bot and I had a discordant communication, neither of us quite understanding the other

Having recently experienced technical difficulties with a product designed to save and store information from my laptop, I had an online chat with a robot. This was not by choice. In my antediluvian way, I’d have preferred by far to speak to a representative of the company on my Bakelite telephone, the one that’s stored in the pantry alongside the hung pheasants and greengage jam. A most reliable method of communication, it occasionally rings out loud and clear, like Sunday bells through a sunlit valley, startling Kurt the arthritic butler from his dreams of the motherland.

The bot in the chat box asked what my problem was. I tried to explain, in as few characters as possible, that I’d been paying its fine organisation three-and-six a month for many, many years, assuming that my work was being saved to the great big computer in the sky. However, I’d just discovered, to my great surprise, when I had reason to venture into the bowels of the machine, that the last saved item was something I wrote in 2015, titled Nurse. (It’s a side issue, but I have no memory of ever writing anything called Nurse, so the minute I’ve finished working on this column I’m going to get out my stethoscope and see if it’s still breathing.)

Imagine for one moment scooting back in time to gift an American fridge-freezer to your great-grandmother. How would she know what to do with it?

Suffice it to say that the bot and I had a discordant communication, neither of us quite understanding the other, until, like a lobster in a simmering vat, I gradually lost any true sense of time or place and drifted into oblivion, a furnace of technological language raging beneath my pincers. Unsurprisingly, after several cycles of the computerised moon, it became clear that the fault was entirely mine.

If you buy a fridge but don’t plug it in, or put food in it, it’s still a fridge, according to the gist of the message the bot sent me, essentially saying that, due to my staggering ineptitude, I’d successfully purchased the product but had failed to turn the damn thing on.

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It later occurred to me that my pristine ignorance might be of some value to the tech industry. I could be the proverbial old grey in their whistle test, upending all their assumptions about their customers’ basic competence. The fridge analogy (which, I had to hand it to the bot, was chillingly accurate) is a useful starting point.

Imagine for one moment scooting back in time to gift an American fridge-freezer to your great-grandmother. How would she know what to do with it? She might decide to move into it or plant her dahlias in it. Maybe she’d sit inside it and confess her sins. Maybe she’d try to float it to the New World and pursue her dreams of joining the circus/Mafia/Republicans. Maybe she’d wash her bloomers in it.

I am that granny, aghast and atremble, facing a smooth and enigmatic technological device that offers touchscreen interface, internal cameras and flexible user-controlled chilling options when all I’d asked for was somewhere to stash the proverbial butter.

Anyway, I’m in a minority of one, I think. I read somewhere that baby boomers (born 1946-1964), of which I’m one, are making more and more high-tech purchases. And with Christmas a mere handful of sleeps away, there’s a countless amount of incomprehensible innovation screaming to be gifted to that special someone in your life who can find their charger and remember their iCloud password.

A quick gander through online gift catalogues reveals an entire hinterland of gadgetry that you never knew you needed. I mean, who really requires a wind-resistant umbrella whose fibreglass spokes allow the brolly to repel gusts of 72mph?

However, buried beneath a slew of advertisements for ear pods, ear buds, portable chargers and life-muting, noise-cancelling headphones, there are two bits of tech ephemera that would, I reckon, enhance my analogue life.

The first, for hitherto atavistic garden-herb murderers, is a planter with a built-in water reservoir and LED overhead lamp, an idiotproof way of growing a bunch of basil if you’ve got more cash than canny.

The other, my favourite item of all, is the temperature-controlled smartmug, which apparently, thanks to a built-in battery, you can control – if you’ve a degree in neurophysics and fabulous internet connectivity – with your smartphone. It keeps your coffee warm for up to 90 minutes while you’re noodling around looking for your glasses and retrieving your paperwork from under the sleeping and blithely off-grid cat. And not a bot on the horizon to take you for a mug.