Hopeful Travel on a December Day

I listened to a programme about the way the digital age is influencing literature and drama. Thrillers and crime novels are becoming trickier to construct in these days of mobile phones and closed-circuit TV. It is more difficult to make characters disappear and dialogue has become problematic with the advent of text, email, messaging and so on.
This week’s trip to visit Offspring in her new house illustrated perfectly how our lives have been transformed since devices became essential in our lives. A quick glance around a crowded train reveals rows of passengers travelling together on a shared journey  engrossed in their own little world of screen, plugged in, switched on and oblivious to everyone and everything around them.
Things have moved on since stepping into a carriage and settling into a seat would be interrupted by interminable blurtings of ‘I’m on the train’. A mother climbs on with a toddler and searches for a seat before taking out a phone and placing it in front of the child; pacification by screen. Around me individual travellers sporting earphones are watching videos, listening to something, typing something, reading something, scrolling, swiping, clicking. Almost everyone is lost in their own world, communing with unseen entities.
To me, any unfamiliar travel is interesting, whether it offers stunning scenery or not. This winter trip, taken on a dank and gloomy December day is not pretty, does not offer historic sights or amazing vistas-but although I have my own tiny screens tucked away ready for a waiting room or a platform, I am held enough by the changing views from the window. I like it all. I like seeing the misty fields, the sleepy villages and the towering pylons of the docklands. I like the industrial conglomerations and the uniform suburban streets. I love to peer down into the gardens that line the tracks-abandoned toys, vegetable beds unkempt in their winter state, lines of laundry hanging in the damp air, neat rectangles of lawn and summerhouses with misty windows.
We change trains. The platform where we wait offers people watching opportunities and I’m struck by the way travellers dress. There is a plethora of hole-in-the-knee jeans, a look I’ve not been tempted to adopt, having long ago abandoned high fashion in favour of comfort. On the next train I’m taken with the sight of a man reading a paperback. It is a Dave Eggars novel. I’m tempted to ask if it’s any good but fear I’ll be intruding.
We change again-and again. [It is not an easy journey]. I’m struck by the paradox of this travel. Altogether this expedition to the outer reaches of the capital has taken four trains and a bus. All of the vehicles [including the bus] have been stuffed full of phone-wielding, laptop-tapping screen users. Technology moves on apace. Transport does not.
The return is no better, requiring a bus and a further four trains. The windows are dark. I sit back and delve into the reaches of my rucksack for my Kindle…

It’s Christmas. Happy Christmas to all my lovely readers, whoever and wherever you may be…and a happy and peaceful 2018.

 

The Future According to Grace

Developments in technology move faster than it takes to draw breath, don’t they? This is how it appears, anyway to one who is becoming ancient. A small item in the [on line] paper I read bore the headline ‘How to organise and store your digital photos’. Goodness! A couple of decades ago storing photographs was all about new developments in photo albums and shelving. Do you mourn the loss of photo albums? Or are you delighted to have less dusting and more space in your home? So many technological developments concern scaling down-in some instances to nothing at all.

The same applies to books of course. Myself, I am a convert to digital books-with the great exception of children’s literature, of course. To me the content over-rides any sentimental attachment to paper. I am uncertain, however on the issue of ‘condensed book apps’ which precis novels down into 15 minute reads-this may be carrying minimalism a little too far.

Then there is television. Sets are becoming ever slimmer. Who remembers the enormous sets of the fifties with their tiny, flickering screens inside large, elaborate wooden cabinets? And film-videos seemed like an incredible leap forward in innovation but were soon replaced with the much reduced DVDs then the physical was done away with altogether by downloads. Music has moved in the same direction, with one click replacing the need for record players and records, cassette tapes and ultimately CDs.

Could this happen in the kitchen? It may have already begun. The need for kettles has been negated by taps that produce boiling water and there is more in the pipeline [so to speak] with robotic food preparation and smart this, that and the other.

And while all this minimalising, scaling down and disappearing altogether has been going on, we, the owners [figuratively] of all this technology become bigger and bigger. I wonder then that technological wizardry has not been developed to shrink humans, too. Yes, of course there are gastric bands and so on but these are not guaranteed to be successful or permanent. The idea of shrunken food, however has been tackled in literature. Turn-of-the-century writer Stephen Leacock [http://www.online-literature.com/stephen-leacock/literary-lapses/10/] wrote an amusing short story about a baby who snatched and swallowed a tablet containing 13 Christmas dinners which did not end happily.

The obvious outcome must be that the need for human beings is removed altogether. I imagine there will be developmental stages where man and computer merge. In the beginning the machine will be an appendage such as we see already [think earphones and those weird Bluetooth thingummies fastened to peoples’ ears]. The takeover will progress with insertions into brains, replacement limbs and organs then mobility aids will remove the need for limbs [now think Daleks from Dr Who]. Reduce the jelly-like substance at the heart of the machine and…Bingo! Man disappears from the Earth to be replaced by technology. I just hope the machines make a better job of it all than we have.

Is the art of conversation dead? Discuss!

                No one can dispute that the way we communicate is changing. You don’t need to leave the house to know it. Our homes are full of screens of various types. Unless you live in the Amazon rainforest or a village in Papua New Guinea you will have access to some means of electronic communication-and even then I don’t doubt that whilst they are celebrating their hunting trips, dancing around a totem pole and performing gruesome initiation rites the younger members of these jungle communities will be texting or playing ‘Angry Birds’.

                Science and technology forecasters assure us that in the future almost everything will be a screen; smart fridges, washing machines…even our clothing. We’ll be able to shrug on our Mulberry raincoat, walk to the bus stop and text onto the pocket as we go, or talk to the collar…or just talk. We are already used to seeing people walking along gibbering animatedly. Once upon a time they’d have been thought to have been a little strange and you might have crossed the street to avoid them. Now though, they will be talking to someone else; imparting valuable gems of information such as ‘I’m in the supermarket’ or ‘I’m on the bus’.

                But what, in the midst of all this wonderful development, is happening to conversation? And what is happening to social interaction? Many [I suspect younger] folks consider screen based communication a boon. I do myself. I do the Facebook thing. I email. I text. I rarely chat on the telephone. There is one peculiarity, however that I exhibit that draws pitying looks or exclamations of amusement. I do own a smartphone, but I keep it turned off. Yes! I know how strange this is. What if someone texts me, or sends me an email, or posts something new on to Facebook? What will I do? Well the answer, reader is that I will see all these vital snippets of news or information later-when I switch the thing on [which I do, in an idle moment, about once each day].

                Am I alone in considering it antisocial to be staring at a screen in the company of others? It is an increasingly common sight-a group of individuals seated around a table at a pub or in a restaurant, all staring down at their phones. Why did they come out together? And what are they doing? Reading texts? Watching ‘Youtube’? To me this is like ignoring the person next to you at a dinner table to speak to someone at the other end. Are they playing games? Why?

                I’m predicting that within a couple of years whatever government is in will be hurrying in emergency initiatives to combat lack of speech in children, and dictating that the art of conversation be taught in schools-beginning, perhaps with teaching ‘eye-contact’ skills in Key Stage One.

                Or maybe it doesn’t matter if no one speaks to anyone else face to face in the future. Kay sera sera.