Electric Dreams

You know that scene in Superman 3 when one of the baddies gets swallowed up by a computer, wires going into her mouth and frazzling her until she turns into a hideous robot?*

That was what the 1990s were like.

Last night’s last instalment of the likeable Electric Dreams (BBC Four) expertly conveyed the onslaught of gadgets that attack our houses like a tsunami of wires, leads and games cartridges.

The sheer amount of technological development that went on in the most mental of decades is baffling. In ten quick years, we got the Game Boy, Game Gear, Atari Lynx, SNES, Mega Drive, new cheapo PCs, satellite dishes, portable TVs, MiniDisc players, thousands of pointless kitchen contraptions to steam and smoothie things, pagers, mobile phones, portable CD players and… on and on and on it went.

It was a relentless time where things moved so quickly that it’s no wonder we all became a bit mental and retreated to our rooms to hole up away from the horrible fun of it all. In lurid ski-jackets.

The show pretty much nailed it on that front as the family had so many gadgets chucked at them that it nearly became a public stoning. As a result, everyone sloped off into their personal spaces and did their darnedest to not speak to each other. In fairness, there’s not much point speaking to other humans when you’ve got Street Fighter II, Super Mario World and Tetris to play on.

The 90s were my formative years (which, in effect, means The Years I Started Drinking Booze and Having Some Money To Spend) so a lot of this show wasn’t exactly much of a revelation. To be honest, it probably wasn’t for 99% of people tuning in (it is on BBC Four after all). However, that wasn’t really the point. Basically, this show was a chance to gawp at stuff and coo “I remember those!” and “I had one of them!”

Nostalgia is a wonderful, wonderful thing… especially when it involves laughing at people hurling abuse at a dial-up connection.

*Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about

Nostalgia shows are, essentially, entirely pointless shows that teach you nothing about the world. Expect maybe, that right now, you’ve got it good. However, the fact that they’re pointless doesn’t mean they’re without merit.

Electric Dreams, the series currently running on BBC Four, is an exercise in looking back at decades gone via technology and gadgets.

The usual schtick with programmes like this is to feign some kind of importance. Shows tend to look at food or fashion like they actually mean something beyond practical use. Electric Dreams however realises that it is not trying to help you understand your world better or unlock your soul, but rather, have a fun time wallowing in old pop-culture and, as such, comes away from the whole thing feeling a lot more vital than other nostalgia programmes.

Last night’s show was set in that gloriously odd decade of the ’80s. In that time, as the programme showed us, we got one famous invention per second. Think about it… you got BETA Max, VHS, ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s, Walkman stereos, BBC Micros, the CD player, cheapo synthesizers, the Sinclair C5 (pictured above), Microwaves, things with remote controls, portable gaming, answering machines… and so on and so on.

Of course, many of these things were invented years before, however, it wasn’t until the ’80s that they found a way into British houses.

The family who signed up for this little jaunt through pop-culture history gamely tackled everything the ’80s threw at them, which in the case of the dad, meant hilariously going to the shops on a C5 and recalling those glorious hours spent screaming and kicking a home computer because it just wouldn’t do what you told it to do.

Whilst mum and dad rolled the years back, the kids found themselves staring curiously at all this cumbersome gear and occasionally, becoming rather fond of it.

Weirdly, this show isn’t really about the family. In fact, far from it. This show is Gadget Porn. When the participants open a box to reveal something from the ’80s, you don’t watch their faces or reactions… rather… you find yourself flooded with memories of The One You Had (or equivalent).

To be quite honest, I couldn’t care less what the family thought about the stuff they played with… I was more interested in watching Gia Milinovich excitedly jumping up and down in a shed full of old video playing devices. That’s what I would have done. The shots of Manic Miner and Clive Sinclair’s weird red staircase coupled with the overreaction to radiation poisoning from microwaves was infinitely more interesting than what some kid thought about a Nintendo Game and Watch.

It’s not that the family did anything wrong… it’s just that I was having way too much fun recalling my own memories about that time. It would have been nice if they’d all been sent to a mock miner’s strike though…

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