Monday, March 11, 2013

Technology. Aargh!

I was staying in the Palace Hotel in St Moritz once (as you do) and was sitting in the bar having a Martini (as you do) and over the other side of the bar were some Russian businessmen/gangsters (it's hard to tell the difference).  One of the businessmen's mobile phone went off and this glamorous Russian girl, wearing a very short black cocktail dress, undulated across from the bar, sat on his lap, pulled the phone out of his jacket pocket and held it to his ear while he had his telephone conversation.  "I want one of those!" I thought.  Not a mobile phone of course.  I didn't actually own a own mobile phone until 2010.  I had them for business before but I made sure I kept them switched off.  

A few years ago (quite a few years ago) I was considered technologically quite competent.  I was pretty good at using a PC and people in my office actually came to me for help if they got stuck.  This was after a shaky start.  I was working at a major London insurance market where, over one weekend in (I think) 1994 we went from having no PCs (except finance people) to everyone in the organisation (some 2000 people) getting one.  I was one of the few to have a primitive internal email machine before that (a Wang) with lovely green on black writing.  I asked for a word processing package so that I could modify letters for after when my secretary had left work but was told by a very senior executive that they didn't want managers wasting their time in typing: that's what secretaries were for.  He didn't actually say "women" but that was the implication.  When I went in on Monday to find my shiny new IBM PC I was all excited to get going on this new technology.  Unfortunately mine didn't work.  I stared at the black screen and rang IT support who had one or two other problems that morning.  By the time they got to me at four o'clock in the afternoon I was cross and they were frazzled.  They looked at my machine and told me calmly that I needed to switch the screen on as well as the computer.  Oh.

Over the last month or so I have been upgrading my technology:  a new back up drive (2TB good grief!), new speakers (a great success - my Sibelius sounds excellent), a wireless keyboard and mouse (I can now easily move my keyboard and gain a lot more painting space) and, rather more fundamentally, fibre-optic broadband.  During one of my endless tours of University Physics Departments with my daughter I discovered that fibre-optic cable was invented at Southampton University. 


Now, however I need a new laptop.  The problem is that all new laptops come with Windows 8 and, having had a look at it it is truly horrible.  This is because it has been designed for people who are used to these swishy-finger phones and iPads.  It covers your desktop with horrid tiles telling you what all your friends are doing, what the weather is,  and what Kelly Brook is wearing (alright, that one might be alright).  I don't want this.  I want Windows 7 (actually I don't really like that much either but it's what I have on my work provided laptop).  In fact I don't actually know what my operating system is on my computer.  I just know that I'm used to it and don't want a different one on my laptop.

This one at least has a decent sized screen

There are two horrid things that have tuned me into a technological dinosaur once more.  The first is the growth of the mobile phone and its bloated progeny, the tablet, as a computer substitute.  These cursed things work in a completely different way from my PC and as I have not grown up with mobile technology I can't deal with them at all.  I can't deal with "apps" (I hate that word) and most of them seem completely pointless.  I can't deal with touch screens.  A mobile phone isn't for entertainment it's a communications device!  The big issue of course, and this is even more annoying, is that it is an age discriminatory object purely on the basis that I can't see what's on the screen!  Even with my glasses I can no longer read emails.  Then there are all these tablets. What are they even for?  You can't work on them as they don't have USB ports or proper word processing software so they are just big mobile phone substitutes except most of them don't even have phones.  They have very small memories: I couldn't get all the music I have on my iPod onto one, for example.  You can put your films on them.  No I can't, I have over a thousand DVDs.  People do watch films on them, I'm told.  Why? The screen is too small.  I want to watch TV and films on the biggest screen possible.  That's why I never watch a film on a plane.   They seem to be compromise machines that don't actually do anything well but do everything rather poorly.  Yet the maker of the world's most common computer operating system is, in a pathetic attempt to become trendy, falling over itself to appease the minority of people who have these five minute wonder devices.

The second horrible development is all the pandering to social media.  This is something else I don't understand.  What is Facebook for?  My son has it and his page is just covered in unregulated input from his friends.  A blog I can understand, as you control the content but Facebook and (even more pointlessly) Twitter all seem to be about other people dumping stuff on your page.  Weird. The number of wargames firms using this baffles me.  The whole exercise around social media seems to be about trying to pretend you have lots of friends.  There are even programmes that help you increase the number of these "friends".  Why?     

I suspect a lot of this is all about getting everyone to put everything about themselves and all their content into the Cloud.  "You don't need a big memory, give everything to us to look after for you and you can access it when you want".  "Use social media to keep in touch with your friends!"  But of course this is just so that the large corporation that's looking after it for you can sell all the details of what you do and like to a dozen more large corporations so they can bombard you with intrusive advertising. 

So, what Windows 8 tells me is that we have now reached the point where the mobile phone and social media freaks have won and style is preferred over utility because the current generation is not interested in quality.  Music downloads are vastly inferior to CDs as regards sound quality.  Watching a film on an iPad is a far inferior experience to watching on a 46" TV.  Trying to access the internet on one of these devices leads to a poor "mobile" version of the webpage (if you are lucky).  On something like the new version of Kindle they were saying that you could make the rather poor internet browser better by downloading an app (inevitably) installing it and there you go.  I don't want this.  I wouldn't be able to download or install anything, anyway.  My son told me to put Blackberry messenger on my phone so he could send me messages ("Collect me from rowing!"  "Buy me pizza!" etc.) .  I think it's on there but I can't for the life of me find it amongst all the piddling little icons for things I don't understand.  I would want the internet on a Kindle to work out the box; not have to fiddle with it.  Why can't it just work like my computer?  But of course it isn't a computer.  It's another mobile phone and the underlying technology is immature (and battery technology hasn't kept up either - the bigger the screen on your phone the more power it uses). 

Yet, every morning on the train all these people are tapping away at their phones or looking at their iPads but you can't help think that a lot of it is about status rather than utility.  Increasingly I just want to smash them all up!  Grrr!  

So, I have now given up. The primacy of mobile phone technology has officially lost me.  No doubt over the next few years everything I am used to will disappear.  No CDs.  No DVDs.  No magazines.  Everything is all on the Cloud.  Until it is hacked by the Chinese!



  1. Wonderfully post!

    I agree with all you say!

    I have a basic mobile phone and that's it. Never saw the need for anything more. And I think that's where the keeping up with modern technological/social 'advancements' left me behind.

    I only bothered to eventually create a facebook account as that what the only web-based presence and form of interaction a new local bricks-and-mortar wargames club were using...

    Now I find, our young kids have Ipods / Iphones (spoilt by grandparents) and are more conversant with this stuff than I am...

    We recently felt obliged to buy a notebook for our eldest as they could use them in school to connect to school network for web browsing to improve standards of work etc...

    I immediately baulked at the idea of giving a 9yr old kid a $NZ600 piece of computer stuff to take to school. I was convinced it would be dropped, broken, stolen, lost or whatever within the first days of it going to school...)

    But the wife said it was necessary and how dare I stand in the way of his education! Grandpa would pay anyway... and we'd be able to use it at home for own our web browsing / emailing etc when kids are then home hogging home PC to play games on...

    So I gave in, only to find the damned thing came with Windows 8 - absolutely bloody awful, can't figure it out at all... its now going back to the supplier to have Windows 7 put on instead...

    Technological 'advancements' - what a load of bollox!

  2. Scott, I feel better already! Nice to hear that you can get them to put Windows 7 on instead. Having now researched this is it appears that they are having the same problem in Britain; especially amongst corporate customers - which is where the power lies, hopefully!

  3. Windows 8; what an abomination! And life is too short for Facebook, and Twitter.

    Tablets, though, I'm just coming to terms with. I'm developing a set of ancients rules and I managed to get them working on the iPad, which is much better on the gaming table than a dog-eared wad of papers. Plus you can whizz around the document using shortcuts, and search for terms... I always reckon that technology is OK when one can turn it to a decent wargaming application.

    Cheers, Simon

  4. Mobile phones and their latest incarnations have always been my pet hate.

    First, because people began assuming that they could be late/miss appointments/behave as they pleased simply because they could now phone you up to tell you. All of a sudden not being where you'd said you'd be was fine so long as you phoned up the poor s0d you were supposed to be meeting to tell them. Secondly, because people just can't leave them alone. Either it's someone (sorry, almost always a woman) at a shop checkout who thinks they can have a conversation on their phone and pack/pay at the same time (you can't, love), or it's someone who's in my way when Im hurrying for the train or bus because they're playing around on their mobile devices and can't walk in a straight line as a result. Thirdly, the old boundaries between the workplace and one's home have of course completely disappeared now that work can get me 24/7 on my mobile and demand I connect remotely at 2am in my bedroom to sort out something "urgent".

    So in my view mobiles, laptops, iPads etc just institutionalise rude and inconsiderate behaviour. You'd think that these gadgets would make your own life easier, but in my experience they just enable other people to irritate you even more than they used to!

  5. What a lot to get off your chest all at once - well done!
    In a less extreme form I'm very much with you but I think we must try to think of having had kids as an advantage in this. I know some childless contemporaries who are real technophobes. Agree with you about Kindle, I've just got one and it does not do all it says on the tin.

  6. That is a rant of almost Phil B proportions... the only thing missing was the phrase "fudge nugget".. !

    Your story about screen and computer made me laugh out loud.. in the early days I worked on an Operations Helpdesk for IBM - I really did have a user ring me up to complain that their "cup holder" wasn't big enough... :o))

    Windows 8 is an abomination.... the current mother in law has recently declared an interest to launch herself into the 21st century so hot footed to Tes & Co to buy the Laptop I suggested.. only for me to find it has Windows 8 on it..... square peg and round hole..... how could Microsoft ever have thought that this was a good idea for a non-touch screen user....?? Bunch of fudge nuggets...

    Downloads aren't as good as CD's, but CD's aren't as good as vinyl.. I'm not sure I care enough about the difference to want to go back though... new needles, endless wiping of the LP's to remove dust, never ending..

    Hotel in St Moritz?? You are a spy... what was it... a hit on one of the Russian gangsters? :o))

  7. Thank you for posting this - I'm so glad I'm not alone!

    In the early 90's I used to run the computer system for a medium sized mail order company and considered myself fairly up with things, but so much stuff now seems pointless.

    I hate tablets (my wife spends all evening on her iPad - why?), I hate iPhones. I hate facebook (but I have an account to help me track down old girlfreinds - only joking dear).

    Oh, and my laptop has just died but I'm putting off buying a new one because of Windows 8!

    Martini, Russians - of course your a spy, a double O I hope...

  8. so very spot on rant of the year ! totally agree, since my raspberry/blackberry thing has packed up decided to avoid all this smart phone stuff 3g, 4g ??? that's pulling turns in a plane in my book.....everyone spends so much time communicating they seem to do b*gger all else

  9. And now my main PC has got some horrible virus (via Skype apparently, which I don't even use!) so it has been carted off for a couple of days.

    Glad to see it's not just me!