Is modern technology God-sent or just plain evil?

By Alan Perrott, Greg Dixon

Gadget geek vs the traditionalist: iPad lover Greg Dixon and Luddite Alan Perrott battle it out.

When two worlds fail to connect ... Photo / Thinkstock
When two worlds fail to connect ... Photo / Thinkstock

GEEK

Engagements: Mr and Mrs Dixon are delighted to announce the engagement of their son Greg to his iPad, made by Apple Corp. Both families wish them a lifetime of love ...

But of course I am joking. Even in an enlightened, tolerant, ever-so-slightly random country such as New Zealand, a place where (parliament willing) marriage of all kinds is soon to be welcomed and encouraged, a chap getting hitched to his favourite gadget is still a long way from being respectable, even if that gadget was conceived inside the head of the late godhead Steve Jobs.

Yet it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that, in the three months I've owned an iPad, my initial infatuation with this 21st century magic lantern has developed into something that involves obsession, dependency and - oh dear - love. (And no, I'm not one of those people who thinks Apple is without its flaws - particularly given that the company does extremely irritating things like replacing models unexpectedly - my 3rd generation iPad was unceremoniously superseded by a twice-as-fast 4th generation version shortly after I bought it.

If I'd known Apple was going to do this I'd have waited a couple of months. Thanks, Tim Cook.)

But the iPad is a genuinely amazing piece of kit. It does everything a desktop or a laptop does - at least everything I need a desktop or a laptop to do - only it does it faster, better and, somehow, makes it much more fun. Add to that the fact it is a wonderful piece of design - it's beauty in a box - and that the so-called "retina" display is the clearest, sharpest screen my eyeballs have laid eyes on, and you have yourself the perfect toy. Even my better half thinks the iPad is a wizard device - and she's not interested in technology at all.

And there's the thing: to enjoy or even love the latest wave of technology you don't have to be a smelly teenage male with an acne problem, nor a 40-year-old virgin hacker living at home with Mum, nor one of those people who queues up outside Apple stores every time someone inside moves a chair.

In short, you don't have to be a geek to love gadgets.

The 21st century might not have delivered the flying car or put a robot in every home - yet! - but those of us living right here, right now are living at the beginning of a new industrial revolution that is already delivering us amazingly useful and affordable gizmos that would have seemed like science fiction a generation ago.

If you're over 40, try imagining you are back in 1982, at school, in a science class. Then visualise this: the teacher tells you that by the time you're his age, you will have a personal device that lets you make phone calls from anywhere to anywhere, lets you listen to almost any song you care to hear, can tell you where in the world you are and give you directions to any place you want to go, can take photos that you can share instantly with others, is able to answer, if you ask it, almost any question and, even more amazingly, can fit in your pocket. If your science teacher had said all that to you, three things would have passed through your mind: a) this is the most amazing device in the world, ever; b), you want one of these things immediately, not in 20 years; and c) your science teacher is probably lying, is bonkers or both.

Yet this device - the appropriately named smart phone - sits on the desk beside me as I write this. Indeed, if I'd wanted to, I could have used it to write this rant, emailed the rant to the editor or, if I'd wanted to get comment on it from my friends and acquaintances before publication, posted the rant on Facebook. What's more, I could do that and all the stuff the science teacher promised using Google, Spotify, Instagram and a dozen other web services and apps, plus do a lot of other things too, like play games, watch clips on YouTube, read a book or, using the "How to tie a tie" app, tie a tie. And I can do all of these things anytime and almost anywhere I want to ...

That sound you can now hear, that coughing, spluttering noise, is the sound of technophobes and Luddites scoffing like so many grumpy cavemen.

"Why would someone possibly want to be connected to the world and available by phone 24 hours a day?" they ask. Or, "what's the point of social networking when I already have real friends?" Or, "why would you want to take a picture of a sunset and send it to your friends?" Or, "why would you - like you do with the Spotify music service - want to listen to music but not own it?"

Experience has taught me that attempting to answer such questions is an exercise in futility because trying to explain the wonders of technology to a technophobe is like attempting to explain to non-Aucklanders why hating Auckland is completely stupid.

Trying to enlighten a Luddite is like hoping that, if you just speak more slowly and shout, a non-English speaker will understand what you're banging on about.

However, I have a tiny, tiny bit of sympathy for the leery old Luddites who, for sentimental reasons, love antique and redundant technology such as, say, LPs and polyester trousers - and not just because they are so last week. That is because although I could read a book on my phone or my iPad or an e-reader like a Kindle (I could store our whole library of books on just one of these devices), I don't want to. For me reading a book on a screen is an unnatural act, akin to watching television advertisements (which, thanks to another stonking piece of technology, MySky, I almost never do).

But books, old-fashioned books, are simply the exception that proves the rule. My iPad and smart phone are the future and they work. And they'll keep me happily occupied until my robot arrives.

TRADITIONALIST

"I just wanted to say I love you," said the text.

Jiminy crickets ... who could that be from?

There I was on holiday in New Caledonia, enjoying the break and not expecting any such declarations. I had to reread those words several times before returning my gaze to my private lagoon.

Then my phone rang again. Well, you can't hear that you're loved too often, I guess, except I now understood what was happening and considered throwing the phone into the sea.

Three, two, one ... it rings again. And again. And again.

By the time I get up and wander over to where I've thrown it, my phone has been anonymously adoring another four times.

Now if this has never happened to you, then your first name probably doesn't start with an A.

Barely a week goes by without the damn thing going off because someone - a drunk someone - has sat on their phone and bum-dialled the first name in their contact book.

So, where you might see a phone as a tool, I see it as a pain in the bum operated by tools. Okay, that's harsh, this particular texter is lovely and had been sniffing the early blooms of love at the time.

I don't care about cellphones and never will. Mine somehow avoids coming to work with me several mornings a week and gets lost altogether two or three times a year. Luckily, my work cubicle and home feature perfectly adequate landlines - that people seem to consider an affront to have to call.

I'm rather looking forward to losing my latest phone. I hate its crappy touch-screen that never stops where I want it to nor opens what I want to open. Beyond that, I hate that when you get on the bus everyone, and I mean everyone, is head-down, tapping at the damn things to finesse some lame pun they just know is going to be retweeted to the universe and beyond. I also hate that such tweeted stupidity is now news. And I absolutely hate to pieces the people who can watch events or view stuff only through their phone camera.

This hostility somehow emerged before I ever owned one. Even then I took the plunge only because of work.

When it comes down to it, I'm a slow - if at all - adapter; an almost-Luddite, in the same way a piscatarian is an almost-vegie.

During the 90s, when it looked like records were in terminal decline, I begrudgingly started buying CDs. I had about 30 before I bought a CD player - which I promptly gave away when, lo, records rose again.

As far as I know, my iPod is still rattling around at the bottom of my bag. It fills me with despair that a lifetime of digging for vinyl treasure can be decanted on to a device smaller than my stupid phone.

And yes, I realise phones haven't been phones for ages - they're maps, email, cameras, time-wasters and personal statements courtesy of whatever wacky ringtones you imagine most likely to lead a stranger to think you rock.

Even then, an updated version will pop out in a few weeks and you'll have to queue to buy it. Didn't we use to do that to use pay phones? And weren't cellphones supposed to free us from such drudgery? You've been played.

All this is fine if your life is enhanced by kids' games and checking your spam every few minutes. Me, I've got a map book, which seems to work fine and is more suited to my bung eyes.

As an extra special bonus, don't you love how such technology has fostered the creativity of our fellow citizens? Especially those brave cybernauts who treat comment threads and Twitter streams as toilet paper.

People like Reddit's former bottom-feeding troll Violentacrez, best known for his stream of offensive posts, which include ogling underage girls. After being outed as a 49-year-old, now unemployed, Texan dad, he explained himself this way: "I do my job, go home, watch TV and go on the internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time."

To me, the internet is a rock we rolled over and a plague of scumbags, narcissists and bores broadcasting their dinner plans scurried out.

It seems our greatest achievement is simply a platform that allows cretins to contact people they've never met and harass them.

This platform has also spawned total nonsense like the Memoto. What purpose is served by wearing a "lifelogging" camera that takes a photo every 30 seconds so you can see everywhere you've been again and, presumably, post it to bore others?

Surely it'd be easier - and cheaper - for everyone to buy a mirror and look at that all day? Actually, there's probably a mirror app on your phone already.

We've reached a level of wilful disclosure that makes me feel like a hermit. That or a dodgy geezer - I mean, what am I hiding?

Which brings us to the nub of the thing. Back in the olden days, before the plague that killed off adjectives, I and many others pronounced "virtual" as "virtually". It meant close, but not quite. As in, if I'd virtually won, I'd lost. Or, if I'd virtually done my homework, I hadn't even looked at it.

So, I say that when it comes to all things virtual(ly); they don't measure up.
And they're still bum-dialling me.

- NZ Herald

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