Spectator: Lucy Baring on progress

Aswimming costume has just been delivered. It’s midday. It was ordered online last night at a little after 10pm. I still find this extraordinary. My children can all (and this includes my nine year old if he had the funds) order any item you can think of and there it is on the doorstep, within hours.

They can swap photographs of their breakfast with someone in Cairo should they chose to. They can sing (tunelessly) a small snatch of song that’s going round their head and the phone will tell them what the song is called and who sings it. We live in a remarkable world. I just don’t understand how things work anymore and, judging by some recent conversations, nor does anyone else.

My nephew, for instance, had no idea his watch is run by a battery and that instead of it being broken, a quick visit to any jeweller would sort out his problem. Given that he’s never wound a watch, I wonder what he thought made the thing tick? When he said he didn’t know any jewellers, his mother stared at him in double disbelief.

A friend of mine’s 19-year-old daughter, during her first foray into independent living, rang the managing agents of her rented flat because the light wasn’t working. An electrician was called. The bulb had gone. Admittedly, three bulbs had gone in quick succession, which led her to believe that something might be wrong with the wiring, but actually, the bulbs had simply gone.

Another friend, who’s currently working elsewhere, rents out her house to a pair of high-flying 35-year-old accountants. They rang her to say that water was pouring through the kitchen ceiling from the bathroom above. She sent a plumber round, who reported back that the shower plughole was blocked, which meant the tray had overflowed.

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Having had to pay a hefty call-out fee, she rang me to explode because she didn’t want to vent her spleen on the entirely amiable tenants. ‘How can it be that you are a grown-up professional, doing an intelligent job, yet you can’t remove hair from the plughole?’

Last year, I had a brief and doomed relationship with a 1970s Triumph 1300, during which our local garage owner nearly wept with joy whenever he saw it (which was expensively often). His employees now need degrees in computer sciences not mech-anical know-how.

If I get a flat tyre, I can’t undo the wheel nuts on my Nissan Micra because one of them needs a special key, which I’ve definitely lost. Our washing machine has umpteen cycles, of which
I only use two. I think I can set it to go off when I’m away on holiday. I could buy a machine called a Pintofeed, which will automatically dispense the correct amount of food to my dogs and cat when I click the button on my phone.

Our world today has conflicting problems. On the one hand, we’ve lost basic common sense and, on the other, things have become so complicated that common sense is irrelevant. I should find the latter rather relaxing. I’m not a practical person and, now, there’s every reason for me not to be able to mend things. But I don’t feel remotely relaxed.

My father said one of the mira-cles of the war was that your kit always caught up with you, no matter how quickly you’d been moved. Perhaps that’s more astonishing than the swift arrival of today’s swimming costume, although I’m still wondering where that was when we ordered it and how on earth it got here so quickly.

Yet, awe aside, I’m not sure my problems are any closer to being solved. I don’t care if my car wheels are thiefproof, if I can programme my washing machine to come on in 10 days’ time or if my smartphone can dispense food to my pets. I can’t mend my own puncture, the washing machine still eats socks and the dogs need company. I must, however, teach the children how to change a lightbulb and unblock the plughole.