Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The blunted razor.

I've always thought of myself as something of a Luddite. That might seem spurious, since I’m quite obviously sat at my laptop tapping away on the keyboard and will, in a little while, be pressing a button that sends a file, wirelessly, through the air and into a magical labyrinth of servers before being distributed freely all around the world. Luddite? Yeah, when it suits me.

So maybe I’m a lazy Luddite. Maybe I carry the Neanderthal gene somewhere within me, the gene that caused their demise. A gene that forces me to say “You know what, this way works, let’s just leave it like this”. A gene that prevented the Neanderthal from exploring and from adapting. A very watered-down gene, but still I feel it’s effect. Thus far said gene hasn't caused me to throw a shoe into the wooden gears of a textile loom but I never use the electric starter on a motorcycle if there is a kick-start to do the job, nor do I press a doorbell if there’s a door available to knock on.

I have no problem with technology in the main. Technology doesn't always refer to iPads, Blackberrys or killer robots. Ball point pens, wood screws, the wheel and the axle that made the wheel useful are all examples of technology and examples that I embrace. I enjoy sitting at my laptop watching dogs do stupid things on Youtube, being able to pause live television so I can nip for a pee and flicking a switch to make a room warm or light. All those things, with the possible exception of Youtube, are very handy. They make my life easier in all the unimportant aspects of it. I don’t need any of them, and if I didn't have them my life would be just as exciting and enjoyable as it already is, just in a different way.

Maybe I’m better described as a fan of Occam’s razor. The simplest way is generally the best way. Why do we discover, invent or manufacture perfectly adequate tools to make our existence a little more comfortable and then continually piss about with them? I own a motorcycle helmet with Bluetooth. I own a washing machine that continually plays the first couple of bars of Westlife’s “You raise me up” (Don’t ask, I've no idea.) to tell you it’s finished washing. I have shirts that require no ironing and an iron that tells you when it’s hot. Somewhere, in a box or bag under a bed or in the loft, I have a fork that rotates to make the eating of Pot Noodles even simpler. Not a single one of these things is necessary to get me through my day, but still I bought them.

We've taken the internal combustion engine and used it to make travel and haulage easier and quicker. When I was young I owned many a shit car, and if anything went wrong with one I’d get out my Haynes manual and, along with a mate or two, would spend a morning or afternoon repairing it. I would use spanners, wrenches, screwdrivers, tape, grease and a hammer to get my pride and joy back on the road. I could put my hands inside the engine and feel the parts. I never once had to hook my laptop up to it to perform diagnostics and no matter what the problem was I could repair it. It may have taken me longer than the lads at the garage would've taken and there may have been enough cussing to make Frank Gallagher blush but the feeling of satisfaction when my pride and joy was back purring and roaring it’s way around the streets of Salford was incredible.

Every time someone decides to add a feature to a perfectly functional piece of existing technology they not only increase it’s functionality, they also increase the list of things that can go wrong. Servo-assisted brakes and power steering, fantastic. Until your electrics go whilst bombing down the motorway. Electric windows mean no more having to use your own power to wind your window down, but it makes escaping your car after plunging into a canal particularly problematic. There are vacuum cleaners on the market with the ability to sense dust and tell you that you've not done the cleaning properly. But you can see the dust, so why do you need a machine to tell you? Maybe it can sense dust that can’t be seen. But surely, if it can’t be seen, it doesn't fucking matter?

Machines now build machines for us. Machines design the machines that the machines will build for us. Our phones tell us when to get up, when to make that phone call we need to make and how to spell. Where once we’d turn to whoever was sat next to us on the couch to ask “oooh, what was the name of that song…” we now automatically unlock our phones, find out for ourselves and miss out on the conversation that might have sprang from our inquiry. Facebook allows us to lie convincingly to our friends and family and Twitter allows us to be completely honest with total strangers. Many of us will have read something completely inaccurate on the internet at some point and taken it on board without question. We’re letting the television educate and entertain our children, we even let it baby-sit them whilst we take a bath or cook the tea. Our cars tell us when they need servicing, our irons tell us when they’re hot and our vacuum cleaners criticise out lacklustre attempts at cleaning our homes. We rely on machines in almost every aspect of our lives. Computer says “yes“, computer says “no”, iron says “careful, I’m hot” and the hoover calls you a scruffy bastard. Technology is now our master, and when it decides it doesn't need us anymore it holds all the cards. No more helping you spell, helping you drive or helping you communicate.

The rise of the machines won’t need to be led by Skynet and it’s cyborgs. They won’t even need to fire a shot in anger. Skynet will simply decide that humans are all very much beneath him and ignore us. Our cars won't start or, if they're already being driven, won't stop. Our messages will remain unsent, planes will drop from the skies, smoke alarms will quietly giggle when our kitchens burst into flames because the iron that swore blind it was cold when we put it in the cupboard was actually glowing red hot instead and we’ll be crippled by Asthma made worse by our having filthy, dusty carpets. And, if Skynet wants to ensure there is no resistance, it'll let us keep Tweeting. That way we can moan about our lot, find others who agree with us and then get sidetracked by looking at pictures of dogs or reading life affirming advice from eighteen year old children craving attention and validation.

Personally, I'd probably not notice the difference.



  1. Very cleverly written, amusing and observational. I look forward to more!

  2. Superb, funny and again very thought provoking. Love it!