Written on: 1. 11. 2011 in the category: news

What precisely does one do with a website?

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A committee member of the Wexford Festival Opera — a lover of music, to be sure, but in most regards a plain and modest Wexfordian, more of a Rackard than a Rackrenter — was once, while about his operatic duties, invited to a Big House for lunch.

Unfortunately, he was somewhat delayed and only arrived after everyone had finished their first course. Look, said his host, why don’t you catch up with us while we wait, and then we can all move on to the fish together?

A platter bearing an artichoke was placed before him. Now, this poor Rackard, having never even seen one of these beasts before, had as much idea how to eat it as a Zulu warrior has to mend a sewing machine.

So initially, he waited and wondered what to do next, while the entire table gazed on expectantly. I mean, what is it, an artichoke?

It looks like an armadillo in vegetable form, and like an armadillo, has no obvious starting point for a diner to begin upon. What does one use to prise it open? A knife? A harpoon? A hand-grenade?

And once one has achieved the improbable feat of breaking into its innards, what next? What bit do you eat? After all, some prior knowledge is usually required for these things. It probably took a thousand years for mankind to learn that one eats the claws of a crab, but not its body: one eats the body of a prawn but not its feet: one eats the shell of a runner-bean, but not of a pea: one peels a banana but not a peach; one eats the nut of a walnut but not of a plum. Et cetera.

Anyway, in a long and wordless frenzy, he continued to study the creature on his plate, while his companions solemnly studied him. Then he tried some tentative interrogation with a fork, while neither the artichoke nor a fellow guest uttered a single word of guidance. After some 10 minutes of this futile interrogation, the butler came to his assistance and, removing the platter from beneath his unprotesting nose, carried it away with all the stately grace of a newborn son and heir being borne from the obstetric couch.

This is a rather convoluted introduction to the admission that I too now have an artichoke, though of the internet variety. It is called a “website”: or should that be “websight”? Since it is for viewing things, rather than building houses on, I suspect “websight” might make more sense. But my computer clearly deplores the latter word, angrily underlining it with a wobbly red line. So I shall stick with website, even though I don’t really trust its rather arachnidian implications.

The history of this artichoke-of-the-internet is brief. People kept on telling me to get a website. Why? — I would ask. Oh just because, they would winningly reply. What do I get out of it? Exposure, was the response. But what if I don’t want that? Go and live on Rockall, then: you’re a journalist, and exposure is the name of the game. So I am now the owner of a website, and do you know, I haven’t got a bloody clue what to do with it. I feel rather like a fish that has unwrapped a boomerang under the Christmas tree, or a horse that has been made a present of an oyster.

The thing is, of course, that I belong to the last generation of journalists, who began their careers with a fountain-pen: my early copy was then typed up by the splendid Cecily, the office secretary. I soon graduated to a mechanical typewriter — though I still can’t type properly, and never remember what keys are where. So even as I write this, I’m having to peer around the keyboard, like a housewife in the greengrocer’s, feverishly looking for the radishes and the celery, before dashing off to the butcher’s. Where’s the K? There it is, between the J and the L. And look: there’s a #! Gosh: how jolly. But what the #### is a # for?

In the course of my journalistic career, mechanical typewriters went the way of monks in the scriptorium, having been booted out by word processors. These actually proved to be the Zeppelin or the Sinclair C5 of the office, and were soon displaced by personal computers, the manuals for which were the size of the New York telephone directory, but — having been written in Old High Nerd — were about as useful as an anvil to a windsurfer.

Odd, isn’t it, that the first PC-makers didn’t think of putting the manual into the computer software: it took another generation for that to happen. And now I have a little laptop — oh who invented that delightful word? — which is the size of an Iranian ham sandwich. Indeed, with the assistance of Mr and Mrs Google, you can learn just about everything in the universe these days — except the answers to these two vexing questions. How does one eat an artichoke while being watched by a table of Anglo-Irish grandees? And what precisely does a fellow do with a website?

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