Clarkson on: the internet
When I first began to write for a living, I used a manual typewriter which provided very little in the way of distractions. You could type in black ink and when that became boring, you could type in red ink. And that was about it.
But now, I'm simply staggered that I'm sitting here writing anything at all because my new computer can do so much more. When I turn it on in a morning, knowing that I must write something before lunchtime or I'll be killed and eaten, I still get waylaid by the promise of a quick game of FreeCell to get me in the mood.
And what's this? Heavens, it seems I can also sit here all day watching DVD movies with CD-quality sound. So now I face a choice. Write, or spend half an hour or so on board Das Boot.
Das Boot won but now I'm back and the deadline is getting awfully close. But I fancy looking for pictures of naked girls on the web so I'll just do that for a while, if you'll excuse me.
Right. Now the thrust. I heard a chap on the radio saying he'd just bought a car on the Internet. He'd found a dealership, negotiated a price, chosen a colour and had the whole transaction done and dusted within seven days.
Well, I bet he's fun on a night out. You can't buy a car over the Net, you idiot. You'll never know whether the seat gives you backache, whether the salesman's a git, or if you're talking to a silicone Maxwell who'll take your credit card number and fall into the sea with it.
And what about secondhand cars. Even if you could find something for sale that isn't in Minnesota, how could you possibly know what it's like without taking at least a tiny test drive? Something that's impossible online.
I know Ford has built a hologram car for Tony's Dome but this won't give an accurate picture at all; in fact, it is the most useless invention I've ever heard of. What is the point of a car that doesn't exist? Sure, you could make it go into town but why, if you can't go with it?
Now, where was I? Ah, yes. What if you decided to do all your shopping via computer. Think. You could work from home, watch the latest movies and have everything you need brought to your door. You'd never need to go out.
So then you'd lose your social skills, become covered in boils and, eventually, you'd die. No-one would know until goo started to seep into the flat below. And your holo-car began to pixelate.
For me, though, the biggest risk with the Net is fraud. I have been asked many times for my credit card number and, occasionally, I've felt tempted to tap it in. But I never will, because, for all I know, the vendor is a Colombian drug lord who will not be willing to uphold any money-back guarantee.
"I have been asked many times for my credit card number and, occasionally, I’ve felt tempted to tap it in"
So, if I'm not going to buy anything on the Net, why is every Internet-based company worth £2,000 billion? If they can't sell anything, they'll go bust. It'd be like opening a restaurant and refusing to unlock the doors. Or, more accurately, like hiring Ronnie Biggs to take people's credit cards after dinner.
As I see it, the Net has two purposes. First of all, it's a giant library which can tell you anything at any time of day or night. But none of the information contained in the silicone-nerve centre can be trusted. So far as I can tell, there's nothing to stop me setting up a website which says that Tara Palmer Tomkinson is 47 and has a degree in robotics from Cambridge University.
Try it. Go into the Net tonight and ask for biographical details of, say, James Garner. You'll find that every site contradicts the next, whereas if you look in a book, you know every fact has been checked and then checked again. And most books are not written by 14-year-old boys with apple-sized zits.
So this leaves us with the Net's only real purpose: pornography. If you want to see what can be inserted in whom by what, then there is a bewildering array of photographic evidence. Every star has been disrobed for your pleasure and every act, no matter how deranged, is reproduced in full grisly detail.
Which brings me back to the original point. Why is every Internet company worth £2,000 billion? Why, if I paid a visit to a venture capitalist this afternoon with some half-baked Internet-based idea, would he be willing to give me his house and all its contents?
I suspect we are looking at the Emperor's new clothes here, and that no-one has yet stepped forward to say, Hang on a minute. This is all b******s. And breasts, bosoms and pubic hair.
Vauxhall recently offered a thousand- pound discount to anyone who bought one of their cars over the Internet, and I'm absolutely dying to see just how many people take them up on it. And more than that, how many people meant to but were distracted en route by the promise of some Hot Asian Babes. Or even a game of FreeCell.
The sooner we all remember that a computer is a tool, like an electric drill, a hammer or a washing-up bowl, the better it will be for everyone. And the sooner we remember that cars need to be tried before you buy, the better it will be for your peace of mind.