Don’t Breathe until you’ve Strapped on the Button-

We are used, now to seeing those posts that invite us to join in congratulatory admiration for friends’ achievements. You know the ones. So-and-so has just run X miles or, J Bloggs has cycled to here; there will be a map to show you exactly the route they took. These posts fall into the same category as those selfie shots, a cloud of grinning friends all having a ball or seated around a table of delicious, ‘Masterchef’ style food-or standing on The Great Wall of China or Golden Gate Bridge. It is rare to see a photo of someone grappling with a flooding washing machine or in the aftermath of open-heart surgery.

Creeping along into this melee of ‘tell-all’ comes the tiny, wearable, digital device. Of course, monitors of all descriptions have been around for ages, but these, ever-smaller, watch-like buttons are becoming more sophisticated than ever. According to devotees they will tell you how many steps you’ve taken, monitor your heart rate and inform you of how you’ve slept.

It seems to me that this is taking self-absorption to another level. Why do we need a device to tell us how we’ve slept? I am still compos mentis enough to know whether I’ve slept or not-because if I was awake I probably knew about it already. I also have a fairly good idea whether I’ve walked anywhere or if I’ve been a lazy slob slumped on a sofa with a book. I’ll let the health system deal with my heart rate, though if I’m feeling ok why worry?

Won’t these little, wearable buttons give us the same paranoia that googling symptoms does? Supposing it tells you you didn’t sleep a wink last night? What will you do? Go back to bed that minute to recoup the lost hours? Only walked eight thousand two hundred and fifty four steps? Quick-get outside in the garden and do a few circuits before ‘Eastenders’. Eaten too many calories today? Nothing to eat tomorrow!

Worse still, in a sinister vision of the future, supposing some popinjay in the health department of a nanny state government comes up with the brilliant idea of linking their use to the health system. You will be required to wear a monitor at all times if you wish to be entitled to health care. You will be resuscitated only if you have slept for the mandatory eight hours last night. You will qualify for a hip replacement only if you have completed your compulsory ten thousand steps per day. Goodness! A veto on surgery for smokers or the obese has already raised its ugly head. Linking healthy lifestyle to healthcare entitlement can only be around the corner.

Or why not programme the devices to issue warnings? They could jolt us with an electric shock if we sip at a second Sauvignon or munch on a MacDonald’s and sound an alarm to alert us to getting on with our ten thousand steps. Does it remind you of any famous novels? Just remember that 1984 was over thirty years ago.

Check This Out!

It would be an understatement to say I flounder in the waves of new technology. No sooner do you begin to get a grip on some gadget, software or device then some new upstart replacement arrives and you must begin again. Nevertheless there is the odd innovation that I do, after some tuition and practice start to get the hang of-even derive some satisfaction from and appreciate.

Take automatic check-outs. At last, after studious avoidance, suspicion, trial, many failed attempts, instruction and practice I am able to process my shopping through the complicated business of self-check-out totally unaided [sometimes]; I am able to bag things without the strident voice admonishing ‘unauthorised item in the bagging area!’ I can manage to tell it I have my own bags and collect the points on my loyalty card. Even so there are blips, like this morning’s debacle of the machine refusing to acknowledge my bananas.

I can see the benefits of self-check-outs. They cut down queues, take up less space and time and negate the need to engage with real people. Wonderful! But actually I am getting to an age where I’ve begun to enjoy those mini conversations, those minor snippets of small talk-with the person queuing in front of me or behind me; with the baby sitting in the trolley, with the person sitting behind the check-out or the boy scouts helping to pack the stuff. And if those of us who have company at home want to speak to others-what of those who lead solitary lives, these moments of minimal chit-chat the only conversational encounters in their day?

And what will those check-out workers do when the machines finally edge them out of employment? Nobody wants to be labelled a Luddite or to stand in the middle of the road of progress, but what are the employment options for manual workers whose occupations are being usurped by machines?

The Japanese [who else?] have designed and manufactured a ‘drone waiter’; a flying tray that delivers meals to diners. I don’t know if it is programmed to intone ‘Enjoy your meal’ or ‘have a nice day’ or to return and ask ‘is everything all right for you?’ but I doubt if it can process the reply. What if your steak is underdone, your side salad hasn’t appeared or the wine is corked? What on Earth are all the resting actors to do to support themselves in between roles, if waiting at tables becomes a redundant job?

Technology has come a long way, no more so than in the field of communication; but the future holds a bizarre vision. Silent people queueing to commune with machines, restaurants full of silent customers jabbing at screens. Will we lose the power of speech and the ability to look anyone in the eye? Perhaps our personal machines can take on our communication for us? Why not? Get your mobile device to speak to your friend’s mobile device. Get it to select and order your meal-why stop there? Get it to eat the meal, tip the drone waiter, call the driverless cab and go home. Who needs people anyway?

Smaller is more beautiful…

                In a somewhat treacherous and hypocritical move, we have executed a kind of ‘upgrade’ of our travel vehicle and are now using a slightly larger camper van. I say this because I’m aware that I posted on the pecking order and the relative sizes of travel vehicles at around this time last year. We were always the smallest unit in the village, the runt of the litter, dwarfed by the gargantuan motor-homes that surrounded us. The ironic outcome of this change is that we are still the smallest camper van wherever we go, owing I presume to the fact that everyone else has acquired a larger one also.

                Husband mourns the tiny van and was reluctant to exchange it for the current home-on-wheels. I accept it is trickier to manoeuvre and cannot be used as an extra car at home, but the advantages are undeniable. It has a large, comfortable bed constructed from the two plush sofas lining the walls, a walk-in shower and toilet cubicle, a cooker complete with oven, swish windows complete with blinds and pull up insect screens, skylights and a wondrous amount of storage. All this luxury is quite enough two people. It makes me a little curious to know why other couples would need such enormous wheeled dwellings. And how much must it cost in fuel? And where on Earth do they keep it, assuming they have a bricks-and-mortar house elsewhere?

                How bizarre it is that in the present day, when technological advances seem concentrated on producing ever smaller devices- tiny ‘watch’ style internet consoles, Google’s strange glasses with internet screen [won’t everyone be bumping into each other?] etc, other items become larger and larger. TV screens, lattes, beds, cruise ships, aeroplanes, McDonalds’ meals and people are growing bigger by the day.

                Wouldn’t make more sense for the collected, obvious genius behind such marvellous and desirable, tiny objects such as slimmer tablets and phones to direct their talents into technology that reduces our need for so much power to use them?

                The French have constructed a cunning new law for owners of motor-homes so massive that little cars needed to be towed behind them. A HGV licence is necessary for the additional vehicle to be hauled along behind the mother ship. The lack of these small cars rolling along behind is starkly noticeable, although how the inmates are coping with their daily needs is not altogether clear. For us, little in this respect has changed. We shop in between one destination and another, we park up, we free our bikes from the back and use them to collect what we need. We also get to cycle around the lanes in the Provencal sunshine looking at the rural landscape and stopping at an occasional hostelry for a glass of vin [me] or a beer or two [Husband].

                We have learned not to dash around ticking off sights in an ‘if it’s Wednesday it must be Rome’ way, getting to know a small area; the beautiful, medieval villages, the vineyards and the orchards-currently clouded with pink blossom. Small [even if a modicum bigger] really is better.