Reading the press most days, it is hard to escape the impression that most women are cool professionals, who use all the programmes on our washing machines and of course use computers and surf the world-wide web with insouciance. The reality of course is that while we might have inspired technological moments, many of us are Maids Marian who get by using just a couple of programmes on any domestic machinery and buy computers only to spend the next six months pleading tearfully on Helplines manned by mumbling males who charge us 80p a minute. Naturally, we learn to distrust such techno-geeks who rule us like latter-day Sheriffs of Nottingham and yearn for merry men to rescue us, telling us how things work in ordinary English. How unsurprising then that the Internet remains for an awful lot of otherwise switched-on women, an incomprehensible language of dots and slashes.
We are in the grip of revolution however. Tesco?s recent, much publicised offer of free Internet access to 10 million ClubCard users will revolutionise women?s lives. Just imagine if the gimlet eyes you normally employ speeding round the supermarket aisles for bargains, are used instead for surfing the Web. Think of the bargains and the opportunities. Already 8m are on line in the UK, but by 2005, experts say half the nation will have joined in. I am willing to bet it will be the female half. The male of the species having become far too exhausted fighting for cyberspace.
This week I joined the revolution too. Having been on-line rather half-heartedly for a couple of years now, I have just been transformed into CyberWoman, the proud owner of The Antonia Swinson Website. This is still a huge thrill and I have not yet learned to become blas? about it. I know, this is touching, give me until about Wednesday.
I suppose the Internet appeals most to my thoroughly feminine sense of economy. Readers of this column by now will know that I am fairly allergic to wasting money. So with a new book to promote in the crowded women?s fiction market, I now have advertising space for a just a couple of hundred pounds. Last Saturday morning, Cornelis, my whizzo Dutch website designer arrived, and by Sunday morning my website was on-line. I am not running up phone bills or eating away at writing time contacting press or bookshops. Just visit my website. I say. The coolest four words in the language.
I surf and find that 500 Swinsons have their own websites, primarily in the States. My lot were involved when Gutenberg?s printing press finally hit Britain in the 16th century, and have been in publishing, printing and writing ever since. So why should I be surprised that all the obvious Swinson website names are already bagged? I e-mail a B Swinson for fun. He turns out to be an engineer from the ?Chicago area? ?You?re a writer. Wow!? he replies. 'What a great Klan. Up the Swinsons!? Is this really how they spell clan in the Chicago area? A weirdo? Possibly. But for me he doesn?t have to be Tom Hanks, he has already ordered my book from Amazon.com.
The Internet is revolutionary because it gives everyone a level playing field in which to do business and make money. While doomsters will tell you of the evils that lurk on the Web unchecked, there is space for everyone. There is no sexism, ageism or racism in cyberspace if you have a good selling message. I ring an elderly friend who is a successful wallpaper designer. Now in her seventies, she is finding constantly visiting shops too much for her, yet her designs are hugely admired. Now she too is thinking setting up a website, and being linked up with potential clients and manufacturers world wide. Soon the very word retirement will be obsolete unless you happen to have a cushy occupational pension. We?ll all be on-line till we drop. The elderly have so much to gain from the Internet, for they already have had their education and have already enjoyed real as opposed to cyber relationships. For older women investors too, who in my experience are so easily put off by apparently patronising professionals in financial services, what fun going on the web could be. When Internet share buying really takes off in Britain, the markets had better watch out for Grey Panther power.
Women have so many jobs anyway during the average day, we need to communicate with each other just to keep sane. We also need to keep our overheads low if we want to succeed in business. I hear of one woman at a local folk club, writing songs in Gaelic and selling them over the web, another friend chatters away every evening on-line with a sci fi writing group, while a mother of three I know rents out holiday homes to families, with great success in South Africa and Australia via the Internet from her front room in East Lothian, before rushing out to do the school run. In my book, ?The Cousins? Tale? the isolated heroine goes on-line in the middle of the night, to find there are all sorts of women out there who can help her. Men, the little dears, have invented the galaxy?s biggest garden fence. Just for us! Come the revolution.
Why not spread the word: use your favourite social network!