Monday, 16 July 2012

We Have The Technology

When I graduated with a degree in Electronic Engineering forty years ago the world seemed an exciting place and we scientists were going to improve life for the general population beyond their wildest dreams.

At the time I started at The Lucas Research Centre we were starting to put sophisticated electronics under car bonnets and at the side of roads. We were developing engine management systems that would make cars more efficient and less polluting. We were making vehicles safer with better braking systems, reliable lighting and ergonomic controls. We designed and manufactured street lights that came on automatically when it got dark and we invented ways of getting accurate, up-to-date traffic information to drivers without distracting their attention from the road.

When I moved to Plessey I became involved in communication systems. The laborious telephone dial was replaced by a push-button. Memories were incorporated into phones together with features such as redial and callback. Phones were becoming smaller and more modern looking. And then we got hands-free phones which eventually morphed into the mobile phones that are in use today. Soon I moved into other areas – data communications, digital exchanges and fibre optics.

And what has all this space-age technology produced?

On every street we see zombies walking round tapping away on their infernal devices or with the things glued to theirs ears shouting at the tops of their voices. It seems it is now socially acceptable to discuss your sex life at full volume on public transport. Or, with a few deft thumb strokes, you can inform the whole world that you've “Just sat down in Starbucks with a skinny latte LOL :).”

As if that isn't bad enough we end up sitting on the bus next to some hoodie playing some sort of 'shoot-em-up' game on a tablet no bigger than a postcard with faint sounds of gunfire and explosions emanating from it. And if we want to ask someone to move out of the way or ask if a seat is taken we are in danger of being ignored because of those invisible earpieces playing tinny music rendering them deaf to the outside world.

No one can follow written instructions or read a map anymore because of these marvellous satellites that guide us up dead ends and down river banks.

What happened to my Utopia? I'm living in a nightmare which I helped to create. Where the hell did we go wrong?


  1. So ... you're the one behind it all ...
    How long do you think it will be before we have neural inputs and we're all shouting into space on the bus? What do you think a wireless neural input would look like?

    Thanks for the cracking Amazon review of Taranor.

  2. Yes, it's a very strange world. I remember when I was in junior school reading a book about what life might be like in the year 2000. It seemed so far away. And now it's already 12 years in the past! The book was mostly about space travel, and how we'd all have jet powered packs on our backs so we could fly from one place to another. Beam me up, Scottie!

  3. I always thought people would become more intelligent, but it seems new technology is robbing some of the ability to think for themselves. It's all gone horribly wrong. I think we've been had!

  4. You're welcome, Helen.

    Amazing that we thought travel would become easier, Joanne. Now the quickest way for me to get round Nottingham is by bicycle.

    We've been had in many ways, Teresa.

  5. Hi Keith
    This would be a good subject for Question Time! I don't necessarily think it's the inventions which are the problems. For instance, the mobile phone has saved lives which have been in danger in remote places of the world. I think it us, the users, who don't use them correctly or efficiently. They become an extension of some people's ears rather than a communication tool.
    I hope you're writing is flowing and that everyone at NWC are well. Thanks so much for your support on my blog. Keep well.
    Ange :)

  6. Yes of course, Angela, I was being pessimistic in picking up on just the negative aspects of scientific progress. And there have certainly been many benefits in other fields, such as medicine, which I was never involved in.
    Always happy to read and comment on your posts. We miss you at NWC.

  7. Over the last few weeks I've seen the downside of technology that you've mentioned - but also the good side. We can easily keep in contact with friends and relations all over the world - not just with words, but can see their faces, hear their voices and watch children grow up. As with most tools, it's all about how they're used.

  8. I agree, Patsy. As an engineer you develop a degree of cynicism. It's part of the design process to cast a critical eye on your creation to ensure that it's reliable and as good as it can be. I'll try and make my next post more upbeat.