Database was a 1984 series about the fascinating world of computers years before computers were anything like fascinating, and decades before you could pay anybody to give a shit. It ran on Thames Television, which as near as I can tell was like British Public Access, but with marginally less full frontal male nudity and honestly about the same level of racism.
Much of Database was simply boring — just pasty middle-aged dudes who forgot to rinse out their conditioner talking to each other about wattage until the film ran out because the director died in his sleep and there was nobody to call ‘cut.’
There is no way in hell this niche disaster was a real TV show, much less one that ran back in the mid-1980s — when every other series was about a ragtag team of misfits waging guerilla-warfare against real estate tycoons with the help of their sassy talking motorcycles. But no, Database did exist, and to be fair, it was actually pretty revolutionary. For example, they ended their episodes by ‘sending’ the audience free software via sound — so instead of a credits song, they said their polite British goodbyes and then cut straight to cacophonous demon screeching for fifty solid seconds.
It was an unpleasant show.
One that lacked any meaningful audience, any effective means of conveying information about their topic, or any clue why anybody should care. But that’s not why we’re here. This is Nerding Day, and for once, we’re going to use it to honor the nerds.
The Power Nerds. The Proto Nerds. The Nerds Who Came Before. The nerds who were here when we invented Nerds, and thus shaped our image of nerdom for the coming generations. Nerds who were so far ahead of their time that society hadn’t even learned how to hate them yet — so these dorks had to teach us.
This, then, is Julian and Pat — the least comfortable guest stars put to film before Joe Rogan started his YouTube channel.
Julian and Pat are here to demonstrate how to send an email, which is laughably simple now, but back then involved two dozen steps, eight plugs, three special machines and a backup letter in the post in case the email didn’t go through.
I feel for Julian and Pat — I recognize a lot of my own anxiety in their dry lips and juddering chests. They should not be on television and they both simultaneously came to that realization the very second the onsite director shouted whatever “action” is in British. “Gippy-gos,” most likely. But I relate to their discomfort, and I respect how they’re facing it anyway. So it is only with the truest of love that I mock them for it. Mocking is how I display affection. It is my problem, not theirs. I hope you all feel the love in this:
Julian looks like a chemistry teacher who’s still two steps ahead of the detectives hunting the Toe-Suck Killer… for now.
Both he and Pat resist moving their necks like they’re suffering internal decapitation and this is all some twisted Saw-style challenge.
Julian boldly exclaims that “this process is quite simple, really,” then proceeds to:
Remove the phone line from the outlet
Plug the phone line into the modem
Plug the modem’s phone line into the outlet
Switch on and set up the modem
Log onto the computer
Log onto the computer’s modem application
Retrieve his fucking enormous rotary phone
Make an actual phone call to the computer he wants to connect to-
At this point Julian risks certain death and burns a neck movement to shoot the camera a panicked glance — he only just now fully appreciated that he’s showing the world he takes eight extra steps and makes an actual phone call just to avoid making a phone call.
The host chooses this time to parrot his earlier words back to him — “so it’s a very simple connection to make?” She either does this in the hopes that her audience consists solely of drunk gullible children who enjoy lies, or because Julian said something snotty to her before filming and now she wants to watch him twist.
Julian does not back down. “Extremely simple!” He proclaims, continuing to crank his archaic rotary phone wheel to and fro like a grizzled sea captain caught in a typhoon.
Waits for the computer to answer
Flips some switches on his modem
Adjusts his modem application
Hangs up the phone
You’re ready to think about sending an email now!
That was session zero of this campaign!
You’ve only just now set up the characters — the adventure begins next time!
Julian has one more moment to shine, and that’s inputting his personal password.
Listen, I know Julian is the kind of uber-nerd who thought ahead, who rehearsed this whole sequence eighty times before filming, who probably changed his password temporarily once he figured out he’d have to give it away on air. But this was 1984 — the only other person who would own a computer, watch this show, and log into the same highly local internet, is Pat. And look at the little smile she fights back when he pulls that move. That smile tells me Pat cracked your weak-shit real password months ago, Julian. “Oh, nobody will figure out NCC1701!” That’s the designation of the original Enterprise, Julian, you BASIC bitch.
Anyway, here’s the internet that arcane ritual got you access to:
The primitive internet was 9 things and 5 of them were horseshit.
Now it’s Pat’s turn to shine!
Pat moves like it’s her first day piloting a Pat-suit.
Remember this is with love!
She blinks like she’s been told exactly how many blinks she has left before she dies, but not how many days. She’s wearing some kind of short-sleeved Battlestar Galactica onesie just for the special occasion, and it is apparently constricting her breathing like a Victorian corset.
I can’t believe how little you want to be doing this, but you’re still doing it, Pat! You are absolutely dominating social anxiety right now and if I point out that it looks like you’re trying to Morse code the entire Hacker Manifesto with your weird eye movements, I need you to remember that I am the broken one here. You’re doing fine.
Pat is very excited about the computer. What does she use it for? Mostly documenting the food in her fridge. That’s seriously her answer. I literally only use my computer to make fun of Pat and even I think that’s a waste of a computer, Pat.
Pat says she loves to send email, and she really did not expect any follow-up questions. When the host asks her what sort of cool letters she’s sent, Pat hesitantly displays the time she emailed her doctor about a prescription.
Pat, my god, you are a beautiful human being and an inspiration to everything that feels fear but you are television mayonnaise. You’re the taste of cardboard. Your one job is to technically exist on screen and you are getting a C- at it. I love you, Pat. Get the fuck away from that camera before you kill somebody. You are the best. You’ve done enough. Please flee. Please flee.
But no, Pat has another task to complete before she can collapse in her closet for fourteen hours: She must demonstrate sending an email, which plays out exactly like you’d do it today, only with fourteen extra steps and seventy-three more potential failure states. They let her improv the content because it’s not like there are any viewers left to lose. Besides, what’s Pat going to do, write a vulgar screed abou-
Oh shit oh SHIT cut to credits!