The arrival of hard-disc recording has transformed our television habits. No matter how enthralling the programme—try dragging Athena away from an episode of the Australian kids-soap Mortified, for example—a press of the button will freeze it in time and unfreeze it when it is safe for the action to resume. Usually the hiatus lasts only as long as it takes to communicate essential orders about tidying bedrooms or getting ready for bed. Crucially, the kids understand that their precious viewing can be manipulated in this way. They might not appreciate the technicalities of digital recording, but they understand that their glimpse of TV-land will be frozen there, incorruptibly, on the screen until such time as they can pick it up from where they left off.
Isaac is on the phone to Granny. They are discussing some work he has done at school, and he wants to bring it to the phone. ‘I’ll just pause you for a second,’ he says, putting the handset down and skipping off to retrieve his drawing. For a moment, Granny is just like any bit of digital reality that can be paused, or even rewound, for the user’s convenience. Is he using the word metaphorically, in the sense of ‘keeping someone hanging’ or ‘leaving someone to stew’? I’m not sure. I suspect there’s a deeper confusion about the particular multimedia experience that’s called interacting with a person. Or perhaps he thinks that pausing his phone conversation is about exerting control over the bit of technology he holds in his hands, rather than using his powers of persuasion on the flesh-and-blood person at the end of the line.
All of which reminds me of a cartoon I was sent a while ago. A stout boy is standing on his back step pointing a remote control at his garden and clicking furiously. Out of view behind him, the voice of Mom is calling: ‘It’s the outdoors! The remote doesn’t work on it!! Go and play…’ I don’t think we’re meant to conclude that the little telly addict depicted here does not understand the outside world as a reality that exists independently of him. He knows there’s a real world out there; he’s just a bit confused, like Isaac is, about the mechanisms through which it can be controlled.