Belfast Telegraph

HG Wells was right... we have become slaves to technology

By Mike Gilson, Belfast Telegraph Editor

I sometimes think we are like the Eloi. In HG Wells's magnificent short story, The Time Machine, the Eloi were the childlike, beautiful people who live on the surface of a future Earth, concerned only with trivial things and pleasure.

They gambol in the sun without a care in the world having largely eradicated the need for deep thinking, or even work.

Down below are the Morlocks, subterranean creatures, who do all of the heavy lifting, but who, as Wells's masterly science fiction tale unfolds, are the real masters, keeping the Eloi as terrified victims. It's an obvious Wellsian warning about the future. About the division of labour and the removal of society from its own means of production. Without stretching the point to breaking, I think there might be a touch of the Eloi in modern society.

Bear with me for a bit, but might the modern-day Morlocks be, among others, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, the late Steve Jobs of Apple, or Sergey Brin of Google?

For under the guise of a technological revolution that has freed the world, have they not actually enslaved it?

Think music is in a golden age? Think again. Band not on iTunes? Don't have an iPhone, or iPad? Forget it.

Your book not on sale on Amazon? Never heard of you. So you're nowhere in the Google rankings? You don't even exist. Eloi-like, we seem to have accepted this carving-up of the world without so much as a murmur.

And is not this technological determinism, where society is dragged by the nose towards must-buy hardware, lured by trillions of dollars of marketing, not at least worthy of some kind of debate?

Why was it that the BBC turned the launch of the latest iPhone into a major news story, rather than what it clearly was ... advertising money couldn't buy?

If you really want to see the modern-day Eloi in the flesh, nip into an Apple shop and watch them gawping at the latest shiny minimalist trinket in the shiny minimalist shop watched over by shiny minimalist beautiful sales people.

It is also the level of conversation that is in danger of being degraded unless we properly understand where we are headed.

Twitter is an impressive tool and no mistake, but huge parts of it are teetering piles of banality upon banality, where ignorance and prejudice solidify.

And what's worse, the Morlocks are working underground there, too. Thousands of people paid to give good reviews to rubbish, build consensus over products, push noxious ideologies without a declaration of interest.

And on Twitter, like shoals of petrified guppies, we swim hither and yon as the sharks of popular opinion corral us into the latest inane views on Harry Styles's haircut, or Kate's post-natal bump. God help us if we're not trending, waving our arms about hysterically shouting notice me, notice me!

Over at Amazon, the informed critic is almost extinct, as hoards of the half-witted braggers push unreadable literature at us. Everywhere, artists in all fields get less and less for their work as the Morlocks take over the world.

Down through history all societies experience corrections, realignments to headlong rushes. Boy, do we need one now.

It is not that all digital developments are bad. Only an idiot would claim that. They have opened up incredible worlds and this newspaper itself is in the publishing vanguard of some of it. But don't let the Morlocks tell you they were responsible for the Arab Spring, as if those who rose up couldn't think for themselves without a smartphone.

We need to tell our young that thoughtless worship of the latest technology, and the anxiety of constantly adapting to it, is not the be all and end all.

There is time for space and thought and study for study's sake. Otherwise, might we end up like the Eloi? And what happened to them?

Why not buy a hard copy version of the book at the secondhand store and find out.

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