Technology and the Future

Not so long ago I was knee deep in a fairly heated debate over the nature of technology. I was digging myself into a position that intuitively felt right at the time, but now seems less sound. There were two key facets to the conversation, the first being whether or not the current exponential rate of advance was due to slow at any time, or indeed if it would ever stop completely. The second dealt with the idea of falling behind with the times.

The first is easy to move past, I was then suggesting that inevitably there would be a point when we hit the brick wall of physical impossibility. I can’t even begin to conjure all of the developments that might occur between now and that point, or how many false walls would be pushed through before the true limits of natural law prevent further progress, but I believe those limits do exist. Use your imagination – do you believe there will ever be a hand-held device for the instantaneous creation of customisable micro-planets in the solar system of your choice? iPlanet?

An extreme example, but when proffering a similarly outlandish one during this debate, was exasperatingly told something along the lines of, “Maybe, you don’t know, you can’t know, some of the directions technology has gone would have been utterly inconceivable to past generations.” I bullishly stand by my opinion though, regardless of the distinct ring of truth to that counter-argument. I don’t know, I can’t know, but I can be pretty damn assured of the unlikelihood of my more extravagant concepts being realised.

Will we ever be able to take guided tours through the heart of star? I say no.

All the same, I was just now unsuccessfully dredging through Google searches for the name of the British industrialist or gentleman, or whoever it was, that some hundred years or more ago ignorantly stated, probably drooling over a steam engine, that surely we have completely outdone ourselves and can not possibly do any better. Humanities march of civilisation is over, let’s retire to the plantation. I’m not that guy.

I’m not looking at the prototype of the smartwatch and pondering a future without greater expectations, as that sort of gadget vindicates our faith in bringing to life our most improbable ideas. The science fiction writers of the past two centuries have pre-empted more amazing things than you might believe. But I don’t think even Arthur C. Clarke with his three laws of prediction would have permitted the wild extremes of his mind to push his works from science fiction into fantasy. Part of the genius of Clarke and other masters of the genre is revealed when it is shown they called it accurately.

The second element is more of a sticking point, partly due to ego. Although more tenuously than before, I still defend the idea that the younger generations of today will not experience the general pattern of not being able to keep up with advances, particularly later in life. Do you have a parent or grandparent to whom the notion of a computer or the internet is totally alien? Someone who doesn’t even want to try and understand your personal device much less its new “cloud” functions? I believe the future will see less of that person.

Younger people are growing up in such a vastly different climate to their elders. Access to information, and the speed and weight of information being thrown at us, is at a higher level than ever before and only increasing. Disconnection is now a dangerous phenomena to some, as proven in the anxiety and disorientation that a heavy internet or social media user experiences when denied their fix. Consumerism engages us with the latest products, the possession of which is almost fanatical to many.

I don’t mean to sound too doomy. But I do broadly keep to the idea that for these reasons, in the least, more of us will remain in the technological loop for longer than ever before. This is in spite of a curious little moment I experienced a couple of weeks ago. While visiting my grandfather, aged 96, over Christmas, I found myself poking through his study for some wrapping paper reported to be there.

This room was sort of an inner sanctum and in the many years of visiting him, I had never actually been inside and so was surprised to see an electronic typewriter perched on the desk. At a guess I would say it emanated from the late 60’s and although the old man couldn’t precisely recall, he told me it was a truly state-of-the-art machine in its time. He extolled that for his purposes it was about the last step up that particular tech ladder he required, thus never owning any sort of computer.

The family patriarch is no luddite. An artillery officer during World War II and an experienced architect with a distinguished career, he is absolutely comfortable with the digital radio, LCD-TV, Sky box, DVD-player and all their many remote controls. He is perfectly at ease with a new model dishwasher or microwave when the old one goes.

After that I was more open to the possibility that I might one day not comprehend the latest gizmo, not because I ever naturally became less capable with technologies, but because I might eventually be landed with the tool that suits me best and won’t feel the need to keep abreast of the fast moving times. It goes back to the question of the necessity of technology in our lives, whether looking at individual or societal needs. Do we retroactively create the necessity of certain things?

Ultimately though, we are being hard-wired by today’s much more technology-savvy and product driven culture, in a manner limiting that eventuality as best as possible.


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