T3 Opinion: I thought I was old until I went to the launch of a jukebox

I thought I was getting old until I went to the launch of the Electric Jukebox

I recently met a guy called Sparkles. It wasn’t his real name, but he was – and is – a YouTube celebrity. I had to confess that, as I’m over 40, he was going to have to explain what he did very slowly, using short words.

Actually, this turned out to be quite straightforward, as what he does is play games and put the videos online. You’ve probably, maybe, heard of PewDiePie? Well, this guy is like a UK version of him. (Why do all these YouTube gaming-celeb blokes have such weirdly cutesy, childish names? I don’t know.)

Anyway, he was a lovely chap. We talked for a bit about VR (he found that it gave him nausea and headaches, so he persisted with it, and now the nausea and headaches have receded – that’s dedication), and then he went off in search of a club where they played “hard dance”, whatever that is.

At this point, I became extremely concerned that I might be old. Sparkles – who will accept your own gaming videos on his site, by the way, but it must be “only CRAZY footage” – had comprehensively generation-gapped me with his super-modern way of making a living. The fact that he was utterly charming as opposed to bratty and obnoxious made it worse, too. He was explaining it to me like I was a teacher, or a friend’s dad.

The thing about tech is that, as it just keeps on coming out, iteratively changing, if you work in or write about the subject, you always feel pretty damn up-to-date and cutting edge. I can tell people at parties all about wearables and VR and most other techy areas, until their eyes start to glaze over and they start muttering something about needing to go and find a bottle opener.

But you can’t watch everything, and whole swathes of online social interaction have become massive without me even noticing. And the problem with that is you suddenly find yourself talking like a high-court judge. “Who are ‘The Beatles’?” “What is ‘a YouTube celebrity’?” “Why must all these young people attach rows of cartoon faces and a short, animated film to all of their emails?” That sort of thing.

Better in my day…

It’s a fact that a lot of tech is made by, and for, either young people or slightly not-so-young people desperately trying to appear young. That hasn’t stopped the rise of ‘silver surfers’, of course. The fact that the over 50s and 60s have embraced tech is probably down to two things. One is that tech now (unlike five or so years ago) is sufficiently reliable that it can be more or less trusted to, hey, ‘just work’.

The other is that the kids of those people can serve as IT support when they do go wrong. “Hi Mum, have you tried manually setting the subnet mask on the DHCP server? Thought not.” I also went to a launch this month of a product that I think you could say was aimed at old people.

Oldies and those who are clueless about tech, anyway. It was essentially a Spotify rival, and had all the trappings of a Spotify rival: millions of tunes, a regular subscription, curated playlists. The key difference was that it was called Electric Jukebox – they might as well have called it Fab Gear Rockola Box for Dads – and it literally came in a box.

Oh, and the playlists were compiled by Stephen Fry and Robbie Williams, rather than anyone called ‘Zane’. It was aimed at people who find using a mobile phone to play music too confusing. So you just plug your Electric Jukebox into the back of your telly, choose tunes from the on-screen menu and settle back to enjoy the sounds of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, or whoever, through your telly speakers.

Another difference here was that, where many tech products launch somewhere cutting edge and full of young people, this launched at BAFTA’s fusty HQ on Piccadilly, and was presented via an interminable chat between a bunch of music biz ‘legends’, and Alexander Armstrong off the telly.

As these old codgers waxed lyrical about the joys of communal listening, the crackle of vinyl, silently enjoying Crosby, Stills & Nash around the front- room record player, I thought, “You’re not so much launching a product as trying to recapture your own youth. Times have changed. Nobody needs a ‘jukebox’. Get with it, Daddio.”

I did think, maybe, there’s a market for this in people who are genuinely scared by technology, to the point where they think playing Spotify through a speaker is really hard and need a totally simple means to do it. Maybe. However, what I mainly thought was, “But I don’t know any people like that. Hallelujah! I’m not that old.”