(For part one, find Where Did All The Saxophones Go?)
Let me get one thing straight, I love the internet as much as the next person; where else could one buy the entire box-set of “Power Rangers” or learn how to be funny thanks to WikiHow? Just last week I turned on my computer expecting to check my e-mails and winded up purchasing eight first-edition novels signed by John Swartzwelder. Frankly I don’t know if I’d want to live in a world where all this wasn’t possible, and I say this from a strangely profound position.
I – and I imagine both people reading this – will be the last generation ever to have been brought up without the internet. I still reminisce about those magical days in school where the teacher would say to us, “We have a special treat now; we’re going to go to the computer room.”
Imagine that, an entire room dedicated to computers; what a world of innocence and simplicity! But somewhere in that cornucopia of the warm blue glow of computer monitors and egg-shell white plastic we forgot what a powerful resource we had at our disposal. Technology had the power to change the world, but instead we’ve ended up selling ourselves out like the seven billion cheap hookers that we are. Oh, what possibilities we had, but, in the words of Peter Fonda, “We blew it.” Just like when the Coen brothers made The Ladykillers.
In Total Recall we had colonies on Mars by now, in The Jetsons we had self-aware vacuum cleaners and if Back to the Future: Part II is anything to go by we’re only four years away from hoverboards and self-drying clothes. But instead of all those amazing things we have millions of blogs and the Sexy Alphabet Deluxe. Because who knows when we’re going to need the alphabet recited in a sexy voice?
I’d be an idiot to say that we haven’t had any worthwhile inventions in the past thirty years; of course there have been – the mobile phone, Prozac, and saline implants are three innovations that have changed the world in very different ways. But here’s the problem; there’s a difference between ‘innovation’ and ‘invention.’ Innovations suggest making a change to an existing idea, while inventions are something completely new. However, there are only so many new things that a person can have until you start having things thrown at you that you never thought you needed before – but through the power of memes, fads, advertising, self-consciousness and insecurity we’re convinced that they’re great.
And these things aren’t just useless, they’re actually damaging us.
In July 2011 The New York Times published an article proving that the internet is ruining our memories. The theory is that our brains are learning that if we have somewhere else to store our knowledge (i.e. the internet) then it only needs to remember where to find it, not remember the facts themselves. Said the study, “Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read.”
This study only furthers the suggestion that the world is shifting cataclysmically from the ideals of working through strife and into working around strife. No longer does the Yiddish axiom go, “You gotta do what you gotta do” (often misattributed to Rocky Balboa) but rather, “Oy vey! There’s gotta be an easier way to do this!” As a society we’ve given up on ‘getting by’ and are instead looking for any possible way in which our lives can become easier. The iPhone serves no practical solution to a problem other than, “how can I look like more a twat?” but is rather an excuse to fool each other into thinking they have a life. We don’t need all this power, but much like an evil super-villain or a wife-beater it feels good to have some control. It’s a topic I mentioned last year on this site, (A Bankrupt Society: The Occupy Wall Street Movement) in which I wrote, “When you see people sitting on trains, or cafes, or wherever it is taking their phone out and checking their e-mails, you really have to question what information they’re expecting that just cannot wait until they get home.”
But what’s even worse than how the iPhone has changed the world is how the digital camera has infected society. Remember Polaroid cameras? There was once a time when almost everyone who wanted instant photographs, from teenage girls to David Hockney had one. They were on top of the world.
But then came digital cameras. Ten years ago Polaroid went into receivership, and while the company is still around it no longer makes cameras. The appeal of the digital camera is that you need no technical ability to use one; they have auto-focus, automatic aperture settings, and most recently automatically taking the photograph for you. That’s right, Nikon have taken the expression “point-and-click” and decided that two whole actions is just too much for one person and has lightened the burden, so now it’s just a “point.”
What’s most confusing about this is that is seems to be working backwards. The Nikon Coolpix will cost you a cool £120, relatively cheap for a quality camera, which reaffirms the suggestion that the people at whom this technology is targeted are beginners. They’ll mostly be taking photographs of their friends and/or cats, so why all this fuss?
This is a rhetorical question. The reason is, of course, because people like to think they’re more important than they actually are – ergo the smart phone and the digital camera. But that’s what it all boils down to: pretending. We pretend that when we’re switched into our iPods that we’re in our own world; when we’re typing comments on the internet we pretend that our opinion matters and when we use all this high-powered technology we’re pretending that we’re someone that we wish we were.
But that’s nothing new. For as long as history has been recorded children have been playing games pretending to be John Wayne, Geronimo or Michael Jackson (probably not at the same time), and ever since the rise of cinema people have been going in and pretending we’re the main hero. It’s the entire concept behind action movies. What’s shocking these days is who or what culture is suggesting we should be.
Look out for the concluding part in the series in which Luke Irwin reveals the answer to this question, in an article that is certain to be to this series what Part III was to The Godfather.