Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

How technology is robbing us of any sense of value

Launch of new iPhone
Mike Gilson
Mike Gilson

At a breakfast business meeting a social media snake-oil salesman selling golden visions of the future tells his audience how they can unlock untold riches by joining the digital revolution.

 Up on a screen tweets from delegates on the floor are displayed to show what an advantage these early adopting entrepreneurs are getting. I'm at breakfast conference eating croissants says one. Power of social media really eye opening says another. The target audience for this banality is unclear.

Across town a man decides to spring clean. He throws out the rows of books that fill every nook and cranny in his lounge. I've the Kindle now which can store 40,000 titles. Scores of stunningly illustrated titles including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein with its chilling Old Master cover art, Moby Dick with its classic spine complete with Great White flume etching and Madame Bovary with its Monet portrait on the front lie in a cardboard box ready for the charity shop. Forgotten is the pleasure of the long hours of browsing shelves that unearthed these treasures. In other words the discovery. You can even get e-reader retro covers that look like an old classic now.

Another man performs a similar task with his towering piles of CDs, their artwork and the running order of songs as chosen by the artists redundant now the shuffling iPod is here. For years he loved to watch visitors to the house stealing glimpses of the titles that proved his good taste. Now upstairs in the attic boxes of albums with their magnificent gatefold art and occasional luridly coloured vinyl collect dust. Forgotten is the thrill of Bowie's Diamond Dogs album art and lyric booklet.

In a cafe a man and a woman argue over a film they saw years ago when they were first going out and its magnificent final scene. Time and wonderfully imperfect memory have magnified its excellence in their minds but the debate must be settled. On YouTube the scene is found and replayed numerous times. Disappointment sets in. It really wasn't that good was it, not like we remember?

At a packed, sweaty gig a guitar virtuoso is playing licks that confirm his reputation. Everywhere in the crowd scores of people are filming it on their smart phones. It will be posted online minutes afterwards. Only then perhaps will the film makers lament the great gig they missed.

At an awards ceremony evening in a big hotel a table full of young women dressed elegantly stare intently into their phones, messages that can't wait have to be sent. There is no talking or laughter only beautifully made-up faces illuminated by little shafts of neon light.

In a newspaper a TV star's death is recorded complete with quotes from other actors, 140 words long maximum, who never met him but rush to be first to parade their compassion.

On the back page footballers give their bland opinions gathered from every corner of cyberspace. Organisations punt out bland statements on Facebook defying any difficult secondary questions. No conversations between journalist and sources were had in the making of the stories.

I observed or heard about all of the above in the last few weeks. At which point I am forced to ask myself: am I out of time? Does the exciting rush to post something, anything, to communicate instantly, to join the conversation mean more than taking the time to appreciate, consider, understand? Is it possible now to slow down the pace, to think? Is technology our master or our servant? Is its driven insatiable thirst to corner the market, upgrade, entice making us mindless devourers of shiny minimalist consumables. Is the medium becoming so much more important than the message? What do we lose when this happens?

I don't really know the answer to any of these questions and wonder whether I'm simply exercised because I can't get excited by the differences between the iPhone 4 and 5.

What I hope is that we don't find ourselves full of regret when we discover we have been been dancing to the beat of someone else's sense of time.

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