Thursday 2 July 2015

Digital silence

Your digital pal who's fun to be with

Turn off, log out and drop into the real world

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” wrote Arthur C. Clarke in 1973, five years before I sent my first electronic message from one computer to another. In those times there was an almost mystical respect for the house sized electronic abacus and a sense of thrill and fear over what this might bring.

Of course it was not science fiction but satire that first introduced the mechanical minds to the reading public.  Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726, features an inventor of a gigantic computer, The Engine that permits “the most ignorant Person” to “write Books in Philosophy, Poetry, Politicks, Law, Mathematicks and Theology”.

We can understand how today’s machines would look to people even a decade or two ago. Even the prophets of the internet didn’t get important stuff right. William Gibson and Neal Stephenson could write about technology in such an interesting way, in essays or fiction, but they never thought of a mobile phone.

Of course, the nightmarish side of science fiction worried over control – open the pod bay door Hal to the use of surveillance that has become more true than most writers imagined.

So, where are we now? With everything electronic being intercepted by just about country with a half-decent IT department, the concept of cloud computing is in limbo. If it’s easy for a group of young men to grab, collect and trade nude photos of celebrities, how hard would it be for a business to keep their commercially confidential data safe?

While much of modern life is made better by machines, the old primitive regard of tech as magic is obvious in the more than slightly desperate EU, where it is regarded as some sort of magic pixie dust that can be sprinkled on any tired old policy.

Need jobs? Then everybody make apps! Need direct democracy? Then start an online petition.
The internet has been a tool for openness, it has brought many people together and created connections. In war, it is possible to get a view from the other side, it’s easier to learn and maybe even connect to other people.

What is it like being a fisherman in the Faroes? A teenage jobseeker in Spain? A builder in Albania? It is so much easier to get a window into other people’s lives, often giving people a voice that it often recalls the days in the mid 90s, discovering the internet for the first time, when it was little known and access was often available only through…. creative approaches.

There was a sense of standing on the edge of an unseen cliff, sensing the hugeness of cyberspace and the hope, the opportunity it offered.

It’s become everything, the magic solution. Sadly, innovation appears to have stopped. There has been nothing major since Facebook and Twitter.

Remember the old giddy days, only a few months ago, when Europe was telling us Facebook was going to bring democracy to the world? Instead these technologies got taken over by the cancer of commerce, the marketers. They’re breaking it with their nonsense and vacuous talk.

In the English Lake District, people still do the ‘human contact’ thing. There the geography doesn’t lend itself to phone signals. It’s a bit frustrating, but you end up being more connected by being unconnected. Talking over texting, face time not Facebook and going out and actually talking to them instead of typing out emoticons.

Online is good but offline is real.

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