There is something sinister about the way that Technology creeps up on you. One day, life is going on as normal, and the next, you can’t remember how to use a telephone box, or even know where to find one. I can almost remember the last time I made a call from a public kiosk, queuing patiently, until it was free to use. Then, in what seemed an instant, I had a mobile phone in my hand, and I have never used a public box since; though I still had a phone card in my wallet, until very recently.
Can any of you remember what life was like before mobile phones? Imagine breaking down in your car, on a country road, late at night, in an unfamiliar area. You had to walk for an unknown time, until you could find a telephone box to use, to summon assistance. You also had to make sure that you had the correct money to make the call. There were no Freephone numbers, and breakdown companies did not accept reverse charge calls. Or perhaps there was an emergency, and you had to inform a relative, or ring in to your job. You would have to search in a similar way, hoping that there was nobody inside already, in the process of making a long call; or worse still, that all the equipment had been vandalised.
Of course, cars rarely break down these days, compared to years ago. If you wanted to be a driver in the 1960’s, you would have to have had a reasonable standard of mechanical know-how, or face the prospect of being constantly stranded. A working knowledge of the distributor, HT leads, points, plugs, and fan-belts, was more or less essential then. Have you even bothered to look under the bonnet of your car lately? All you will see is a large plastic cover, concealing almost all of the workings of the modern engine. There will be electronics leading into boxes, housing small computers that regulate all the functions of the car. Good luck with trying to fathom out what is going on, unless you are a qualified car mechanic. Technology again, making us dependent on experts, removing our skills, however basic. Controlling us.
Let’s not forget the desire factor. As the gadgets become more and more widespread, part of you might consider that you don’t need any more, enough is enough. After all, you have a mobile phone, a nice TV, a home music system, a portable music system, even a laptop computer. This is where the technology companies really show their mettle. They know that there is little chance of you replacing those items for many years, so they give you a good reason to do just that. They take the same things, and re-package them into a more desirable format. The screens become thinner, the functions increase, the gadgets become smaller, then bigger again, until you cannot resist the urge to change. It is human nature to always want to know what is on the other side of the fence, after all.
So, you have a nice new PC. It is super fast, with enough RAM to supply your needs, and a hard drive that you will never fill to capacity. Then a swish new laptop is announced. It has even more functions, is lighter than a crispbread, and the battery lasts for six hours. The screen is so clear, you feel that you could dive into it; you just have to get one. Then, your mobile contract is up for renewal; you need the phone, so you might as well get a good one. You notice a new one advertised extensively. It has a huge screen, a camera with more pixels than your existing DSLR, and Internet access as fast as your PC. You can browse the web on it, store all your photos, and sort out all your e mails too. Better still, it fits in a coat pocket, so it will save you lugging that tiresome laptop around, in the smart neoprene case that you bought specially for it.
You now own three things that all do the same thing. The PC sits dusty and unused, in a room that you like to call ‘The Office’. The laptop resides in its case, probably propped up under the desk that has the PC on it. You sit happily in your living room, playing games, updating social media sites, and texting your friends, all from the arm of your settee. You glance across at the TV, and see an advertisement for something new; it is called a ‘tablet’. Sleek, slim, and with a bigger screen than your phone. Still portable, though not as cumbersome as your laptop. Next day, you are off to check it out. Everyone seems to be getting one. Your photos look better, you can watch a film on it on the train going to work, and it has a memory capacity that you can actually fill. No hesitation, it is a must buy. You now have four things that do the same thing. Technology triumphs over Man once again.
Of course, you can choose to ignore all this. You can stick with your Nokia handset, your VHS player, with your collection of films and blank tapes ready to record TV programmes. You might even still have a cassette player in your car, and you may have decided to forego the Internet, and not bother to get a computer. That electric typewriter you bought in 1977 still works well, doesn’t it?
The Technology companies have the answer to your stubbornness. Planned obsolescence. They just stop making it. No more VHS tapes, or parts for your old machine. Don’t try using that typewriter too much, as they don’t make the ribbons anymore, and once your cassettes are worn out, and start to come off their spools in the car, you will never be able to buy any again. Happy with your CRT television? Forget that, you will never be able to get it repaired. Anyway, there will be a change in the way that the TV is broadcast, making all those millions of sets just so much junk.
How long will it be before compact discs give way to ‘downloads only’? Then all those resisting change will be forced to buy a computer, and connect to the Internet, if they ever want to buy music again. Technology is control, and I am controlled. I must be, as I am using a PC to write this blog, but I also have a laptop, a smartphone, and a super-slim, Internet-enabled TV. I have been considering getting a netbook too, so even as I write this, I am overwhelmed, and there seems to be no way back.
As for digital cameras and the demise of those using real film, don’t even get me started on that!