I thought the following article was very well written, so I am sharing it here. Stuart Jeffries may have written it almost nine years ago, but a great deal of what he says rings true (pun intended).
Original post can be found at:
To hell in a handset
Watches are on the way out. The days of the diary are numbered. And cameras could be next. The world is becoming a poorer place, says Stuart Jeffries – thanks to the mobile phone
Thursday 8 March 2007
There will come a moment in about seven years’ time when I will make a fool of myself in front of my daughter. Surely it won’t take that long, you say. Be quiet. It will happen like this. One summer’s evening, she will be playing in the street with a bunch of other eight-year-olds and I will go out to call her in for tea. Thanks to the hovercars, free-floating teleportation platforms, jetpack-powered flying ice-cream sellers and other inventions that I confidently predict will be filling our skies come 2014, the noise will be so oppressive that I won’t be able to make myself understood with words alone. So I will be forced to make a simple gesture to tell her it’s time to come inside.
What will it be? I will tap my wrist where a watch should be. The time-honoured sign that you should wrap up one activity and prepare for another. One problem: it won’t work. Not in 2014. She won’t know what I’m on about. She will look at me blankly with that soul-destroying gaze that children are hard-wired to give their parents. (Don’t worry, young techno-hipsters – such old fartdom will be your fate too. There will come a time when your grandchildren will recall how you used to sit them on your knee and play them your iPod or explain to them how you used ActiveSync to back up your email address list. Oh, how will they laugh, and how they will trash everything you held dear. iPods – can you imagine anything more tacky? All that shiny plastic – yeuughh! And emails! How sad is that? No videocalls or anything? Pathetic!)
For months afterwards, my daughters’ playmates will tap their wrists satirically whenever they see her in the playground (if playgrounds exist in 2014), and so I will become a figure of fun. The old fart with his incomprehensible gestures. My daughter’s shame.
Why? Because few people will wear watches in the near future. Wrist-borne chronometers are so last millennium. In the US, a survey by investment bank Piper Jaffray & Co found that nearly two-thirds of teens never wear a watch and that only one in 10 wears one every day. A quick glance around my office shows that I am, by virtue of wearing a watch, in the demographic most likely not to have broadband, know who/what Mika is, or bid co-workers farewell by saying: “Laters!”
True, wrist-borne chronoporn devices continue to appeal to deeply inadequate men with high disposable incomes. But let’s not allow the dreary fetishes of GQ’s target audience to spoil the story. Today a watch is the opposite of a status symbol. Indeed, the main reason I’m writing this piece is that I was spotted by an editor wearing a loser watch. It is a Lorus Sports, quite possibly purchased more than 10 years ago from Walthamstow market, and on its third rotting leather strap. It smells like feet. And not nice feet. If it was a song, my watch would be that one by Beck (“I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?”). Keeps good time, though. Have you ever heard of Lorus? Of course not.
If I was a winner, I would drop my watch in a canal and tell the time with my mobile. In fact, if I was a winner, I would do everything on my mobile phone – even film myself dropping the Lorus in the canal and happy-slapping myself along the towpath. Increasingly, all the stuff you need to get through the day is focused in one piece of kit. Thanks to what manufacturers like to call “convergence”, today’s mobiles already allow you to tell the time, arrange your appointments diary, watch films, play games, and take pictures of your blocked sink that you can send as jpegs to your plumber, who will text you back a ludicrous estimate, which you can check by using your phone’s calculator function. You can use the phone to play that “hip” Snow Patrol/Killers/Go! Team track as you straphang on the Victoria line to the mounting fury of fellow passengers.
It can only be a matter of time before your mobile will allow you to operate the garage door, unlock the car, swipe your way into the office, bus, tube or nightclub. Already, the better type of phone can teach you to play the guitar, the screen showing finger positions for chords and the speakers telling you what they should sound like. If your phone is Wap-enabled, you can play DJ Rob’s pub quiz from Chris Moyles’ Radio 1 show. You need never visit a pub again. Or you might want to shoot yourself in the head.
The world of digital vortex – an interactive
Mobiles have become so much the focus of consumer technology that you might as well drop not just your watch, but your iPod, DVD camera, digital camera, calculator, alarm clock, diary, address book and PlayStation in the canal and go out with one sleek piece of kit. Soon you might even be able to burn your books because you’ll have them on your mobile-cum-iTablet. One problem: you’ll get mugged for your high-spec ponce-a-phone as soon as you pull it out of your trousers in public. And then, unless you’ve backed up every bit of data (which, trust me, you won’t have), you’ll be screwed. That’s because the omnicompetent mobile is a terrible thing. As HL Mencken put it: “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution … and it is wrong.”
That’s the trouble with convergence. It can be rubbish. Better to have a shame-mobile like my six-year-old Nokia, even though, quite possibly, it was made in the former Soviet Union from old Sinclair C5s and barely works as a phone. Like my car (keys in the ignition, door open, motor running), I have been leaving my phone in situations where ne’er-do-wells can steal it for years. No one has. Because I’m a loser, baby.
Convergence is not always what we want, but it is increasingly what we get. “Take the so-called digital home,” says futurologist Patrick Dixon. “Convergence might mean total control with wireless TV/video/music/web in every room, all from one online PC, also used for children’s games and homework – or a fridge that is also a web browser. But who really wants web access on a fridge door, or a single remote control for every device in the house, or a single device to play the same music in every room?” Technological innovation doesn’t simply supply what we want: it supplies more and more of what we don’t need. As Homer Simpson put it: “If they can put a man on the moon, why don’t my feet smell good?”
Technology evolves irrespective of our desires. Its onward march leaves us in the lurch, haunted by memories of things we used to do. For example, when Steve Jobs showed off Apple’s new iPhone earlier this year, he asked rhetorically how the thing would be operated: “Are we going to use a stylus? No, we’re not. We’re going to use the best pointing device in our world: our fingers.” Well, yes, Steve, but no. There’s no need to diss the past. I miss styluses (styli?), especially the one I used to play a very spirited version of the Marvelettes’ When You’re Young and in Love on a friend’s Rolf Harris Stylophone. Tread softly, Steve Jobs, for you tread on my techno-memories.
Technology’s evolution, as a result, often leaves us queasy. We feel a nostalgia for the near past – for its soothing gestures, for the obsolete body language we mastered so well – but mere discombobulation in face of the near future. The new gestures unleashed by new tech (for example, holding your hands above your head to signify taking pictures with a digital camera) have not been sanctioned by the test of time. Years after the arrival of the hands-free headset, many of us still cross the road to avoid someone who seems to be talking to an imaginary friend, when we should be checking their lugholes for miniature earpieces.
“Technology changes what is socially acceptable all the time by pushing boundaries,” says Tom Dunmore of Stuff magazine. “In terms of people talking into their mobiles, that’s become much more acceptable socially.” Maybe in your world, Mr Dunmore. “What amazes me now,” he says, “is how you see teenagers on trains using their mobiles like speakers, holding them up and playing music.” It is a confusing development: the very point, I thought, of personal stereos, MP3 players, Discmans and the rest was that they kept the sound, for the most part, in the user’s head. Technology takes us in socially discomfiting, unpredictable areas: it’s a pain, and not just in terms of GBH of the earhole.
For example, keyboards and computer mice (mouses?) will soon no longer be at the cutting edge of technology. Which is a shame for those of us who have only just got used to them. As a result, people will laugh at you if you make those spider moves with your fingers to signify typing, because in the future (according to Jobs), touch-sensitive screens will render keyboards obsolete. And that’s before we even get on to voice recognition. Our typing days may be numbered.
Amazing, isn’t it? Amazing, that is, that I’ve got so far through a piece on technology without referring to that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise sweeps his hands suggestively across a screen and thus gets the jump on the bad guys.
The point, though, is that technological development is shadowed by the ghosts of gestures associated with obsolete gear. You may be old enough to remember that to suggest typing, one would bash away at an imaginary keyboard and – this is the crucial bit – slam the imagined typewriter carriage sharply back to start a new line. Nobody does that any more. I used to do it with the aplomb of newshound Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday for years. But now no one understands me, so I’ve stopped.
What speeds up the rise in the semiotic scrapheap is just that drive for convergence, whereby mobile phone companies build more and more features into their kit, like digital Swiss Army knives. That analogy breaks down quite fast: there will be no digital way of shaving, cutting toenails, opening wine or making fire. Or maybe there will be. Perhaps there are no limits to convergence.
For instance, both Nokia and BlackBerry are poised to launch handsets with global positioning systems. Were it not for the fact that men find it hard to ask for directions, of course, satnav (“sadnav” to its critics) would have no reason to exist. But it does, and thanks to it, men will never have to ask for directions again. Instead, spoken instructions will guide them from power latte to power latte, from pillar to post, from Pontefract to Penzance. The press release for the BlackBerry 8800 says: “The new smartphone includes a full complement of features to appeal to mobile professionals who want to manage their work and leisure time effectively.” What a dismal world. Personally, I’ve never wanted to manage my leisure time, still less manage it effectively. But then, I am a loser. What, incidentally, is a mobile professional?
Another development will be bigger mobile phone screens. Tom Dunmore says that in the near future, watching films on your mobile won’t be quite as barmy an activity as it now seems. “The most significant development in that area is foldable screens, which will allow you to do proper web browsing and watch movies. You’ll be able to get memory cards holding two or three films. They’ll be great for flights where there isn’t much in-flight entertainment.”
Convergence is not the only game in town. “Mobile phone companies don’t just launch one phone,” Dunmore says. “They target different people with different ranges. Vodafone has a Simplicity range targeted at older users. Smart multi-function phones are less than 10% of the market. And there will always be gadget nuts who want separate high-end pieces of kit – be they iPods or DV cameras or whatever. But the converged proportion of the market will start to grow as phones become sexier.”
Hence, perhaps, the looming sexyphone face-off this spring. Who can resist a sexyphone face-off? It will be between the soon-to-be-launched iPhone, LG’s Shine phone LF KE970 (which has a makeup mirror that becomes a screen when you turn it on – sweet!), Samsung’s Ultra Smart F700, Motorola’s Z8, Nokia N610 Navigator, and the LG Prada. The last one should appeal to me: designed by Prada and built by Korean electronics giant LG, almost the entire front surface is a touchscreen (like the iPhone), and users can drag items around and navigate menus by tapping on the screen. It weighs 85 grams and looks droolworthily sleek. It is elegantly black, with an extra-wide LCD screen, MP3 player and a black leather Prada case. It also is less tacky than the Motorola phone designed by Dolce & Gabbana, which, when opened, shouted “Hello, Dolce & Gabbana!”
But would spending £400 on the LG Prada do the most important thing – impress my daughter? Possibly. After all, she loves nothing more than dunking things in baby food until they become useless. Her critique of the fatuities of technological innovation is more devastating than mine will ever be.
What the do-it-all mobile means for …
What we’ve gained Immediacy – you can see what you’ve snapped immediately and send it out to all your mates pronto. Suddenly, lots of new uses for images become available. For example, one of my colleagues takes photographs of the back of his head with his mobile phone when he is shaving his hair to make sure the cut is even. A mirror is a difficult thing to hold, you see. But if he uses a phone, he can take the picture of the back of his head. Shave a little more off. Take another photo. Shave a little more off. And when you’re happy with the cut, delete all the images (or send them to a mate). I’ve suggested he send these images to a gallery to see if they want to exhibit them under the title My Ever Changing Head.
What we’ve lost Remember those happy moments finishing off a roll of film outside the chemist? Asking a passing stranger to snap you having a sunburned post-holiday snog before you went into Boots to drop off the negs? No? Perhaps it was just me. And then the long, tantalising days waiting for the photos to be ready? Only to pick them up and realise that you forgot to take the lens cap off? Twerp.
What we’ve gained Our beautiful wrists are now unbesmirched by ugly clobber. And remember, before wristwatches, how your waistcoat pocket was really heavy because it was filled with your fob watch? No? Me neither. The very idea! But if you did have a waistcoat pocket that one day did have a fob watch in it, imagine how much happier you’d be now because it hasn’t – you wouldn’t walk with a lurch towards the left, as your pocket would be empty. All thanks to the advent of mobile phones.
What we’ve lost Annoyingly, if you wear a watch, you’re often asked the time by mates who can’t be bothered to get their mobile phones out of their bags and have a look at the digital chronometers themselves. Damn them! The only thing to do is to lose your watch and rely on your phone to tell you the time. Remember watching the second hand of your watch go round in circles for hour after hour? You can’t do that any more when you rely on a mobile to tell you the time – which is just as well, because it made you economically unproductive.
Listening to music
What we’ve gained Remember when you used to want to listen to a whole Wagner opera while on a train journey, you would have to take a box of CDs and feed them in succession into your Discman? And that it was such a palaver that by the end you didn’t care whether Valhalla burned or not? No? Perhaps it was just me. The great thing about having an MP3 player built into your mobile is that you don’t have to be burdened with gear. Not even an iPod Nano, which, as you know, weighs only as much as a bee’s wing. What’s more, your mobile has a speaker so you can annoy fellow travellers with your eclectic tastes. Result! Before Walkmen, you may not know, it was even worse: you would have to hire a man to carry your record player all around town. He would walk behind you, playing your LPs. Naturally, he had to walk very slowly so the needle didn’t bounce. It was a dark age for recorded music in many ways.
What we’ve lost What about the lovely artwork? Nobody savours the Roger Dean artwork on those Yes gatefold sleeve concept albums any more in this barbarian digital age. Least of all when your mobile phone is the source of all your sounds.
What we’ve gained We can call anybody whenever we like. For instance, you can call the hospital from the passenger seat and tell them (quite possibly) how much you’re dilated, when you’ll be arriving, whether you’d like an epidural, sugar for your tea, book the water birthing facilities, etc. In the past you couldn’t do things like that. Which was a shame.
What we’ve lost Punctuality is dead. In pre-mobile days, there was no way of letting someone know we were running late, so we made greater efforts to be outside the theatre at the time agreed. Now we can text them saying we’re running late – even if we’re not and, in reality, just can’t be bothered to meet as planned. Social life is now more fraught with petty resentments than it was before mobiles got on the scene. And now, dammit, anybody can call us whenever they like – it’s harder to hide from after-hours work calls. Virtual presenteeism is the norm. Worse yet, there are no longer movie plots where the guy knows the girl is alone in the flat and the killer is hiding behind the curtains. Today the hero would text Michelle: “Killa in yr flat. behind curtains. scarper! lol :)” And the film would be over in minutes. Rubbish, really.
TV and radio
What we’ve gained You can make a film of your fancy feet during a tango class in Macclesfield and send it to Juan, the Hispanic hottie you met in Buenos Aires last summer. He will be dazzled by your skills and your devotion to his culture and send you a text saying how much he loves you in broken English. You will move to Argentina and have a lurid affair with him and come home five years later, tired but happy, with three children who won’t like Cheshire at all. In the past you couldn’t do that.
Also, we can now watch My Family on our mobiles. And text Gardeners’ Question Time with complaints about their broadcast views on when is the right time to prune one’s pyracantha. Goody! Can this really be what Mr Nokia (or whoever it was) intended when he had a dream of making our lives easier with a portable telephonic device the size of a pillow all those years ago? Quite possibly not.
What we’ve lost Moments of quiet contemplation on the top deck of a bus unbroken by happy-slapping ruffians who knock your Proust out of your hands and put your resultant discomfiture all over their mobile network and the world wide web, probably when they should be in detention. What’s more, you can watch films on your phones in a format so small that any cinematographer worth their salt would cry to see you vandalise their art in such a manner. Neither of these developments is good.
What, really, is the point of watching telly on your mobile? Why don’t you just turn it off and do something else? Read a book. Remember them, for crying out loud? There’s never anything on anyway. Watching telly on the bus? Good grief. That is so pathetic. Get a life.
What we’ve gained No longer will you have to fumble for awkward opening lines in a club or pub teeming with fanciable techno sophisticates – instead you can let your phone do the introducing for you, as prospective partners wandering into range are automatically forwarded your profile. All you need is a Bluetooth-enabled phone and a roomful of hotties of either/both genders. If they like what they find in your profile, they can message you and perhaps even wind up having a non-virtual drink/snog/shag/child with you. Happy days!
What we’ve lost Talking like normal people used to. No longer do you need to deploy your marvellous range of pick-up lines (from “That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?” to “Your face or mine?”) which you learned at a special evening class (Remedial Dating for Sociopaths 101) last autumn. But isn’t that a shame? After all, getting shot down by some imperious beauty for daring to ask her if she’d like a crème de menthe and kahlua used to be a rite of passage for a young man. But enough about me. Another downside is that rude people who you don’t know sitting at the next restaurant table can send you porn film clips on their similarly Bluetooth-enabled phone. It happens. But that doesn’t make it right.
Using the internet
What we’ve gained It’s marvellous to go to streetmap.co.uk when you’re lost and equipped only with your mobile. And realise that the nearest Huang Chow Lane, where you are supposed to be meeting your friend, is in Shanghai, and you are in Walsall with only a West Midlands travel pass. Bummer.
What we’ve lost The possibility of being outside the techno loop while we’re on the bus home. Time was you could just stare at the rain running down the windows as you sat in gridlock. You might even catch the eye of that person across the aisle and, by the time you had to change to get the number 92, would have their number. Now you’ve got to check your email, text or study the news headlines. Otherwise you’re a nobody. It’s also a royal pain to write emails on your mobile, unless you’ve got a plug-in keyboard. Which, unless I mistake my guess, you haven’t.