Sunday 4 December 2016

so, Where would we be without Steve?

iGenius: How Steve Jobs Changed the World Discovery Hugo Hamilton: CroÍ agus Teanga TG4 Young Nuns BBC One Farraigí na hÉireann TG4 Frozen Planet BBC One

Published 29/10/2011 | 05:00

I'm not a gadget person but I really do like my iPhone. Aside from its basic call-and-text function, it has an excellent camera and allows me instant access both to the internet and to radio stations throughout the world. Oh, and some of the media and other apps I've downloaded are a genuine asset, too.

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That's all to the good, then, though clearly I'm neither as smitten nor as awed by the device as I ought to be, because apparently it's "infused with a simplicity and beauty" that breeds an irresistible "emotional connection" in anyone who handles it for more than five seconds. Above and beyond that, however, its invention a few years ago was no less than "a defining moment in history".

I learnt all this from iGenius: How Steve Jobs Changed the World (Discovery), a tribute to the recently deceased technocrat which was so reverential that I felt compelled to bless myself every two minutes in gratitude for his very existence on this planet.

Courtesy of two excitable middle-aged presenters with beards, one called Adam and the other called Jamie, I also learned that Jobs was a "visionary" and a "wizard" and a "guru" and an "artist" and that his mission in life, right from the outset, was to "change everything". Thus, the Pixar-made Toy Story was "a ground-breaking event that changed the film industry", while the iPod, far from being just a music player, was both an "object of lust" and a "style icon". As for the iPhone, "it changed the world".

Even the few passing references to flaws in Jobs's personality -- his ruthlessness and abrasiveness -- were made to seem like cherishable virtues in this fanzine memorial to a man whose genius was focused not on what the world required but on what it desired.

Or as the managing editor of Fortune magazine put it when talking about the iPad: "People didn't know they wanted it or needed it, but it turns out that they did." Not quite a cure for cancer, then, or a solution to global poverty, though maybe Jobs's inventions will prove to be crucial in influencing world affairs, as the Arab Spring suggested might be the case. This film, though, was too intent on idolatry to bother with such serious notions.

The story of Hugo Hamilton's traumatic upbringing under a tyrannical father who forbade the use of English in the family home has already been told in the author's memoir, The Speckled People, which he recently adapted for stage in a production currently running at the Gate theatre.

I haven't seen that, but the book remains vividly in my mind, which enabled me to fill in some of the details omitted from TG4's hour-long documentary, Hugo Hamilton: Croí agus Teanga -- as the title suggested, Martina Durac's film was largely conducted through Irish, in which Hamilton is as fluent as he is in German, his mother's language.

He spoke eloquently throughout but anyone who hadn't read the memoir would have been left wondering about things that weren't sketched in -- how his parents had met, how his mother had survived the war and some other basic matters. But there was enough that was engrossing in the film to encourage anyone unfamiliar with Hamilton to read his work.

"I do feel pulled in two directions," said 25-year-old Catherine in Young Nuns (BBC One) as she prepared to enter a convent of Dominican sisters in the New Forest. "I've always liked boys, so that would be a big sacrifice." The Dominicans themselves weren't too happy with Catherine's ambivalence and in the end told her to go off and think about it. You got the sense she wouldn't be back.

Twenty-three-year-old Clara was much more convinced about her readiness to join an enclosed order on the Isle of Wight, even though it meant she'd only see her family twice a year. Her mother, though sad, was upbeat, declaring: "I feel joy in my heart that God has chosen her." But that, too, didn't work out, Clara tearfully returning home on an "indefinite break" after three months of prayers, solitude and self-denial. "I don't care about stuff but I really care about people," she said in between sobs.

Perhaps she should have joined the Franciscan Sisters of Renewal in Leeds, who seemed to be having a whale of a time as they beetled around the city in a battered old car and gave pep talks to schoolchildren.

The film regarded the young women with respect and affection and the result was both charming and engrossing.

This week's instalment of Farraigí na hÉireann (TG4) focused on seabirds and its stunning images of puffins, kittiwakes and guillemots on Skellig Michael were only topped by the extraordinary sights to be encountered in the new David Attenborough series, Frozen Planet (BBC One).

"Where was David Attenborough when I was a lad?" Clive James lamented when reviewing Life on Earth in 1979, answering his own question by remarking "Being a lad too, I suppose. The difference between us is that he still is."

And so, at the age of 85, he remains. "Amazing programme," my daughter texted me from her iPhone. "Astonishing," I replied on mine. Where would we be without Steve Jobs? Or, come to that, David Attenborough?

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