Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Technology is Not Your Friend

Have you ever heard this sound?

You’re coming out of the mall after a successful shopping spree, you remotely unlock your car from the entranceway, scoop all your newly acquired belongings into your arms and toddle out to your car, but just as you curl your one free finger under the door handle, you hear it—the sound of your car re-locking itself because it got tired of waiting for you:


Yes, that sound—it is the sound of technology kicking you in the keister.

Technology, I am here to tell you, is not your friend. It has not, however (Terminator movies notwithstanding) become the enemy so much as it has turned into a simpering, sycophantic little lackey, the kind who hovers around trying to ingratiate himself by being ever so helpful but who ends up just being an interfering little shit. You don’t want to tell him to piss off, though, because you know he means well and it would hurt his feelings but, when you and your friends go out after work for a pint, you often “forget” to invite him. Then you sit around all evening laughing about what a twit he is.

Technology stopped being helpful when, well, it stopped being helpful; at some point it ceased inventing things that solved real-life problems and began inventing things just because it could.

Like “intelligent” car locks.

Even our little unpretentious C-3 locks itself (yes, I have heard the thunk). Not only that, it will not unlock itself until you stop the car, turn off the engine and take the key out of the ignition, which makes fly-by drop-offs very inconvenient. Now, you might postulate that this locking mechanism is designed specifically to stop me from doing something that foolish, but therein lies my point: why is it up to my car to tell me what I can and cannot do? When did my car become my mom?

If I want to swing onto the shoulder of a busy freeway and slow down to 2 miles an hour so my passenger can jump out, well that’s my prerogative. And if this action results in unintended (though practically inevitable) consequences, then, well, maybe the gene-pool needed a little clean-up. (Come to think of it, if you’re a mobster taking a guy “for a ride” how are you supposed to shove him out of a speeding car? I bet the techno-engineers didn’t account for that scenario.)

As a suitable replacement for our own brains, technology is rubbish. It cannot hold a candle to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator (even the beta version) when it is working well, and far too often it is not.

After the bus station in our town was rebuilt, I spent eight weeks using a side door because the technologically advanced don’t-worry-about-us-we-know-when-to-open, automatic sliding doors wouldn’t open. (Though that did sort of improve my life because it was great fun watching people bang face first into the glass. Yeah, there were signs, but it was early in the morning.) Then, after the door was fixed, it began opening. And closing. And opening. And closing. And…

Listen up, Technology: this is not helpful, and next time I go out with my friends I’m going to forget to invite you along.

But, bless them, they try. I can see them now, gathered in R&D meeting rooms all over the country, staring at squiggles on a white board, trying to think up yet another way to make our lives easier. And to them I say, “Stop it!!! Stop it right now!!”

We live the most cosseted, cushy, cosy lives of any people in the history of the world. Do we really need something to make it even less inconvenient? The innovations we enjoy could not have been dreamed of by the great minds of the past and we fail to appreciate them, so why should we want, or expect, more? We have, literally, at our fingertips, the means of accessing the accumulated knowledge of mankind, yet we use it to exchange pictures of kittens and argue with strangers. If that doesn’t prove we don’t deserve additional life-enhancing inventions then I don’t know what will.

So you guys in the R&D Departments, stop spending huge amounts of time, resources and money trying to improve life for people whose lives don’t need improvement. There are many, many people in this world that could do with a little less inconvenience in their lives. Somewhere, there are children living in garbage dumps; somewhere, there are mothers trying to raise a families in dirt-floor shacks without running water; somewhere—and I know you will find this hard to believe but, trust me, it is the truth—there are people who exist without WiFi.

Help them, please, and leave us alone; you will make the world—all of it—a better place.

What’s New

This is more of an addendum than a proper What’s New, but I happened to hear a snatch of news today (I always try to avoid listening to the news; it never ends well) and I heard that Wales is planning to ban electronic cigarettes on the basis that it looks too much like smoking.

The mind boggles.

At least this puts to rest the question of whether the nannies are genuinely interested in our well-being or are simply interfering busybodies. They want to ban something that could save the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people because it looks too much like something they don’t want you to do.

Based on that logic, they should ban public exhibitions of the two-man luge because it looks too much like, well, you’ve seen them.

And we need a law forbidding men from using ATMs because it looks like they are taking a whizz against the side of the bank, and that is certainly not something we wish to encourage.

The logic is impossible to debate because it is totally illogical. Seriously, I weep for the human race: we have lost all common sense.

So I will leave you with this quote from C. S. Lewis and make sure all the radios in the house are not tuned to news channels:

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”


  1. I find a lot of technology wastes my time. I went to buy one item at a shop the other day and t took forever. The sales assistant couldn't even serve me (she said) until she'd put my zip code in. Then the card swiper was having an off day and only taking credit cards (not debit). Sigh. Then there was something wrong with the bar code so I offered to go trailing back to the shelf to get another one. And on it goes.

    1. Yes, the idea of "Time-Saving Technology" is more optimistic in principle than in practice.

  2. Technology always goes wrong in our house. The printer either refuses to work for me, or prints half a document. The TV recording thingy sometimes doesn't record for no apparent reason. And don't get me started on Windows 8/8.1, which seems to have lost all the stuff I knew and liked (Freecell, spider solitaire and even the list of programs, plus I have yet to find out how to do disk cleanup / defrag, or even if you still have to) and you have to go through about 4 screens to get to the previous Windows home screen, and to shut the damn thing down or get it to sleep! Those stupid picture things - I don't even know what half of them are and I don't want them! Ugh. I hate it.

    All these things are obviously invented by geeks who love the cleverness, but who have totally lost sight of what real, ordinary customers actually want or find useful. It drives me mad.

    I often have to stop the husband buying something ultra clever (he has geeky tendencies) that ultimately is just going to break or end up in a drawer somewhere.

    My only exception is my Kindle Fire HD which, though limited in some respects, does almost everything I want it to do and does it consistently. I use that every day. I even sometimes read books on it.

    1. I think technology works best when it does one thing, or at least has focus, like a Kindle. Something like a computer operating system or (to address your next point) a smart phone is just a playground for geek developers, and an excuse to allow them to foist their latest brainstorms on us.
      A microwave oven: now that is a bit of technology I admire. Despite having been dressed up with touch pads and the like, it still does just one thing, and it does it well. It does not want to answer my phone, or play music (Hey! HEY! You geeks in the R&D department--stop taking notes!!) or scan images. It just heats stuff up. (On the other hand, the automatic door I mentioned above only had one job and that didn't go so well.)
      As for the Smart Phone taking over the world, I'm facing the same problem. The only solution I have thought of is to buy a nifty looking smart phone, but then don't load--or hide or just don't use--any of that stuff. But that would be like buying a car and using it to listen to the radio.

  3. And another thing. (Now you've got me started!) Why aren't there any cool, compact mobile phones that aren't smartphones? I don't want a smartphone. I have no use for one. I don't want bloody Facebook and Twatter on tap, or even emails. I just want to text and phone and I use the calendar as my diary. That's it. I love my ancient little flip-open phone that's small enough to fit in my small, overcrowded pocket when I'm running or walking the dog. Its screen is safely on the inside where it can't get scratched, and when the last one finally died I bought another one the same. But they're not available any more, and now there are only old-lady phones or those stupid great huge smartphones with all their useless (to me) cleverness.

    I admire their cleverness, I do. But I resent the lack of other options, especially as I'm not actually 85 yet and would prefer to look my age rather than like my grandmother.

  4. The last several cars I've bought have wanted to lock themselves after 10-12 seconds of being put in Drive. I've been able to turn that off in all of them so far. I don't care for the fob/pushbutton/keys so I put them in the cupboard and get cheap, flat aluminum keys and put them all over, since I tend to lose them. I have not yet, thank God, gotten a car with a "smart" key. My son did, though, and promptly lost it. I think it cost $140 to replace. I have a Trac phone, which amuses the kids no end. I can't readily text on it, let alone do anything else other than call home if I'm going to be late. Then it sits on the charger until either me or my wife go out again. I am a bit of an internet junkie, but I have to use something resembling a typewriter keyboard and use a two-button mouse or I get confused. Like you, I want it to do what I pay it for. If I want something else done, I'll get another device. I think this is reform Ludditism, but I'm comfortable with it.

    1. Reformed Ludditism--I like it, and it's completely apt: technology has unquestionably improved our lives, it just that sometimes, it's too helpful.

  5. Update - my son has deserted our little club of people with uncool phones and got an iphone. Well, it's my husband's old one. A 4s I think. And even our mate Cal, who has ADHD and is the least technologically capable person in the world, has just got an iphone (although we will have to set it up for him and spend endless hours teaching him to use it -oh joy!). So I am alone with my ancient phone! Sigh...

    PS I had a car with a key card - never do it! Never! Husband lost one which did indeed cost £140 to replace, one went in the wash and another just broke, so I had one that unlocked but wouldn't lock the car, and another that did the opposite. And then there was the time I left it in the slot and the car locked itself...aaarrrggh!

    1. My phone cost £9. I bought it at Teso and it's brilliant. It doesn't do Facebook or Twitter or check my e-mails or film movies or take photos or attached to The Cloud--it just does phone calls and texts. Kinda like a phone, eh?

      As for cars, we just took ours in for service and when we got it back warning messages--accompanied by a startling beep--began appearing at random, but frequent, intervals while we drive. We took it back but they say they can't fix it because they are not an official dealer and can't do the diagnostics necessary to find out what is wrong.

      And in other tech news, they put "new and improved, automatic" lights in the lobby and stairwells of our building. This is the result: