Your stay in Hell is important to us


Posted by in November's Magazine

Mark Young has been playing with tech since 1980 and is yet to stop – he is very tired here’s a constant buzz in my head-box and I’m beginning to realise what it is.

At first I thought it was tinnitus, then a strip light preparing to fail, even that whistling man at Leith Victoria Baths. Not so. It’s the sound of my clients screaming for simplicity as their consumer tech glitches, fails, plays up, or most commonly acts like a Spaniard in a roomful of monoglot Brits.

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I have detected a palpable appetite for a bygone age of televisions with clunky dials, phones that chug and click or have a person on the line instead of menus: “Please press option four for what you least expect.” Welcome to the technological churn of now: Your stay in Hell is important to us.

Sadly, the days of simple consumer technology are dead and gone. Novelty, and the vast economy of scale afforded by an addicted mainstream public, a cheap Chinese labour force and – this is the kicker – built-in obsolescence, make the occasional desire for the year zero of Bacolite, 4 channels and mobiles that phone and text only, one that will not just be ignored but sought out, mocked, and decried as the epicentre of modern Luddism.

The ‘Information Technology’ we talked of twenty years ago now seems a laughably quaint description for smartphones that turn us into bumper cars, and allow our loved ones to track us while we consume violent Japanese bukkake at the bus stop. Yet, good one this, allow me to earn a living telling 60- year-olds that the reason they can’t play Candy Crush with Cousin Val in Vancouver is that their cleaner keeps unplugging their router to use the hoover.

The information gap between the haves-and-have-nots is now a chasm, especially since the digital dogs saw off analogue TV, and the public sector awoke to the cost savings inherent in pushing services online. (The private sector of course has long understood this and has been abusing its victims/customers since IT first cohabited with phones and had a child called, All-our-operators-are-busy.)

The computer pioneers (Linklater, Gates, Jobs, Sinclair) of the 1970s made the promise on which the entrepreneurs of the 1990s (Berners-Lee, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Hurley/Chen/Karim) delivered. And you, Madam/Sir, demanded more, faster and better. And now we find ourselves with an information glut and a knowledge gap that increases between generations of consumers. Grandparent-grandchild, parent-child – insert the prefix-suffix of your choosing.

Amusingly even the mosquitos of junk robo phone callers (PPI, ambulance chasers, new boilers, etc.) have yielded a sub-industry in call blocking hardware where a machine calls a machine, is listened to by a machine, blocked by a machine and deleted by a machine every day, with little human intervention. It reminds me of the HitchHiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ description of video recorders that “…watch boring programs for you, so you don’t have to …” Absurd. Brilliant. True

Take television, not the programmes, rather the kit we use to watch and listen. Since the advent of Freeview alone, the quantity of channels requiring three monthly retunes has grown by 40% in two years. Alongside the ‘appification’ of TV sets, which certainly adds value to viewing with On Demand (ace!), games (so-so – a waste of time compared to consoles) and pay-per-view over the web (Kerching! for the providers). But more choice, of course, equals more paralysis of choosing.

In the old days one question was enough: “What shall we watch?” Now you can add: “In DTS-HD Master Audio, Hi-Definition or 4K? Or shall we stream something from Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Video?” (This without even considering the dark art of torrent piracy.)

I’ve neatly avoided the above exchange for the last three months due to an ongoing Avengers marathon. The real Avengers, with he-man Patrick Macnee as Steed – rather than the Hollywood piddle full of pneumatic ball-busters – and Emma Peel’s jazz dance as martial art in Series 3…oooohhh!

In my experience tech understanding is wide but, crucially, not deep, especially in the generation that succeeded my youth (1990-2010). Most of us under 50s have a close daily relationship with consumer tools, but how many are able to help elderly parents with the confusion social dependence on such tools are now creating, without resort to a short temper or the catch all: “Have you tried DuckDuckGo?” No? Check it out and thank me later.

This constant march for change, improvement, update, is nothing new but the pace is distinctly faster. So what is driving it? For sure product cycles want you to ditch the old and pull out the plastic, but there is something more sinister at work. Software design that flags ‘the new’ only to trick the unwary into installing more adverts, or manufacturers that glue their products together to make servicing almost impossible, is reducing service life and prompting you to “Replace, Reissue, Repackage” – as Morrissey presciently trilled on The Smiths’ Paint a Vulgar Picture.

If you learn nothing else: Think before upgrading – last year’s kit could be as good as it gets.

2 responses to “Your stay in Hell is important to us”

  1. Momy says:

    Nice post

  2. Alvert says:

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