Offbeat 15 January 2016

Welcome to the New Year, which feels startlingly similar to the old year. The last of my friends seems to have wished me all the best for the New Year, except one who was too drunk to notice me on the 23rd. I got a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year from him, two for the price of one.
2016 is going to be thrilling, positively interesting, from what I gather, particularly economically with the commodities rout, the oil price destabilising everything, and Mother Nature kicking back like a rabid mule with climate change. Never mind. The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will cheer us up with all the goodies that we will want for our various Christmas moments throughout the year.
The range this year is completely spectacular. Regular readers of this column will know that I treat technology like a tool. If it does what I want, that’s great. It doesn’t have to look stylish or glitzy or glamorous at all.
That leads me to my first observation. What I have noticed is that many people are actively substituting functionality in favour of looks as far as computing goes. The trend towards thinner means that sacrifices are made in terms of hardware. Stuff like processors and memory are reduced to make computers thin. This is glossed over with a pretty shell.
To my mind, this is the same as a carpenter spending a vast amount of money on a pretty hammer that does not do the job of hammering a nail in properly. It seems a bit senseless to adorn yourself with a barely functional tool in the first place, but it takes all kinds. Maybe thin is the new thick. On the upside, the items are becoming so thin that we will be able to use computers as butter knives in the not-too-distant future.
The key to thinness is also down to the screen. In an effort to go places where no screen has gone before, screens that you can roll up are becoming more of a reality. Rolling up a screen somehow makes no sense whatsoever, unless you feel the need to roll up your television and take it to a friend’s house to watch your own shows there.
I don’t rate it highly whatsoever. Anyone who has carried a rolled paper for whatever reason will understand me instantly. I suppose it is a reverse-evolution. After all those years of flat media, we are returning to the era of the papyrus scroll.
Virtual reality display, VR, is taking another step forward, with Oculus Rift. Next year, you or your kids or someone else you know will either want or buy one. Fortunately, some inspired bright spark has come up with a sonar system that warns you when you are about to walk into a wall.
One of the most notable tech trends is the ‘internet of things’, devices that connect to the internet. The internet of things is gradually leading humanity to a point where it won’t have to think whatsoever. It seems to be led by a core component of designers who don’t think, so the writing is on the wall.
One of the most thought-provoking items is a fridge which displays its contents on a screen on its door. The ‘convenience’ of not having to open the fridge to check what is inside completely defies belief. So too does the butt plug and app for Kegel exercises. And the wifi-enabled pill that you swallow so that your phone can notify you when you have an impending bowel movement. And what can one say about the watch that sounds an alarm and flashes red when you are experiencing too much stress? None of these items are fantasy. Google will show you if you don’t believe me.
These preoccupations of people who believe that they are ‘civilised’, and can prop their self-images up with money, are difficult to contend with.
At least one part of humanity seems to be descending into the scattered realms of dementia. And I am starting to feel disturbed by having this in my head.
There are lots of serious things to think about: climate change, the global economy, the mess in the Middle East. I am adding technology to the list. It’s a symptom of some kind of unthinking madness, and we are willing to buy into it.


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