Monday, 25 January 2021


Conversations about technology go back a long way. Progress has always been symbolised by technological advances. Yet what it’s constantly done is to promise a better life. Promises. Promises. 

The most difficult conversations in recent times have circled around communication which is curious given our glorious command of language for hundreds of years. People I knew learned swathes of Shakespeare . Richard Burton was said to have all 39 plays off word perfect. I guess that was his job. Now I’ve been told forget about memory because that’s best left to machines.

I’m puzzled.

The idea was surely that technology would make life easier and give us more time for leisure and thinking. Instead it’s become divisive, separating those who can and those who can’t or those who will and those who won’t.

Take a recent video of the smart-home where  everything in a house operates to voice commands. The owner asks for jazz to be played, smoothies to be made, heating to be turned up or down and the front door opened and closed. In the 17th century slaves did that sort of thing;  now we use virtual slaves which is rather ironic. The owner goes to the dentist. He has various injections and returns home with his paralysed mouth and muffled voice. His smart-home proves impenetrable as his anaesthetised voice commanding “open the door” is not recognisable.  To his fury he is not the master any longer. 

Social media was allegedly a concept for improving our ability to “share.”  Yet an ex-President’s primary way of running America was through Twitter. I know smart young people who have abandoned social media as trivial, time-wasting and potentially a source of acrimony. I see little evidence that social media is social or sociable. Quite the reverse as Twitter belatedly realised.

Is it easier to write using technology? I’m using a PC now. It’s kinder on arthritic hands and enables me to edit more vigorously and effectively. Does it let me write better? Probably not. Quicker? No. But it provides me with a strange illusion. That what was in my head has magically become the work of a third person. An author who writes in perfect Calibri or Garamond ready for publication.

Technology exists like Outwrite or Grammarly which claim to “help you eliminate errors and find the perfect words to express yourself.” 

Scholarcy and Summly are tools for summarising articles or books. Is this such a good idea?

Here are some famous summaries – at least they’re quite funny.

“War and Peace” – everyone is sad. It snows.

“Moby Dick” - Man v. Whale. Whale wins.

“The Odyssey”- the hero takes forever to get home. Then he kills everyone.

So am I antediluvian and a technophobe? I hope not. I just think we’ve become deluded by devices for the sake of cleverness or money…

At $7.2 trillion Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Samsung dwarf the GDP of the world’s third biggest economy -  Japan (just $5 trillion). So they’re selling stuff that people want to buy. 

That’s why my mobile phone provider keeps ringing me about “an upgrade” – the new Samsung S21 5G. When I say I actually want a downgrade – a tool that  does what I need, they laugh.

It’s time to think, not get machines to do it for us – which they can’t. 

The inventiveness of man is stupefying but I wonder if people like Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ ambitions to become space travellers isn’t indicative of them realising terrestrial technology isn’t enough: that the Tesla’s already maybe just a bit out of date.

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