Monday 6 December 2021

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

by Allister Marran

Who here thinks that life today will be what life is like in 20 years, or 50 or 100?

I mean, when I was born in 1976 there was no such thing as television in South Africa. That came later that year, with a measly one channel and a broadcast time of a couple of hours a day. And it was introduced as another propaganda arm of the apartheid government, carefully orchestrated to feed misinformation to those fortunate enough to afford one, which coincidentally was their target market.

Nobody came home from work or school back then and parked off in front of a 75 inch box with 1000 streaming channels at the ready. Life was vastly, fundamentally different.

Board games, visiting friends for coffee, swimming, clubs, dinner parties, cricket and soccer and four square in the road, reading and collecting and creating. People did stuff.

In 1982 I got my first computer for Christmas, a ZX Spectrum with 48k ram. It was mind blowing what it could do. My life irrevocably changed, the future had arrived and I was a part of it. And it was good.

I sat I front of that computer and learned the ins and outs of basic programming, and I played games. Boy did I play a lot of games. I was hooked.

As processing power increased exponentially so did graphics and game logic, and soon the game worlds were massively immersive, 2D became 3D, polygons became textured and colour pallettes went from 8 colour to 16 million colours in a matter of a few short years. It was glorious.

In the mid 90s I got my first mobile phone, an Ericsson 628 with a single line of display text. It was like a mini PDA like those Tricorder things they carry on Star Trek, or so it felt to me. 

A year or so later the internet came into our homes. Email, webpages and rudimentary forms of social media like bulletin boards, IRC and later instant chat hubs and comment sections on web based message boards.

The world was connected in every way. You no longer had to get out the house, you had a phone in your pocket, you could chat to your mates while.sitting in your study on your PC, you could download episodes of your favorite shows and watch them. And a new thing was on the horizon, you could even shop online for books and later groceries too. Soon you would never have to go out ever again.

The last puzzle piece was the smart phone in 2008 or so. A single device that drew it all together, your PC and tablet and gaming and television and phone and social media and alarm clock and watch and camera and video recorder and file server and banking and weather forecast and news source and calendar and email and GPS all in one place, on one device.

We can marvel at how in 45 years we have progressed from the first TV shows to a super computer in your pocket. And indeed, it's an engineering feat of incredible proportions. 

But is the world better for it?

In a world where people would visit friends and neighbors instead of turn on the telly, in a world where people would go for a run with a mate instead of spending an hour or two on Fortnite, in a world where people were not constantly bombarded with anxiety causing social media hysteria and toxic crazies yelling about the end times because of government over-reach and scaring the crap out of you every day, maybe the simple times without technology were indeed the good old days.

People certainly seemed happier back then.

The world will continue to change, it has to. It's called progress. More new things will come to be in the next 45 years, and your kids who are young today will lament their lot in life and yearn for the simpler times of 2021 when things were easier, when they only had to deal with an iPhone screen and a bit of harmless social media pressure.

Never lose sight of what is truly important in this world, things that have stayed constant throughout the ages, regardless of technological advances and social upheaval.

Treasure friends and family. Seek out and promote honesty and righteousness. Gravitate towards love and caring. Never lose site of your morals, your values and your God. Fight the good fight.

Don't let them grind you down.

We live in 2021. It's a scary place, full of screens and bots and AI's and algorithms.
But our souls can still hark back to that day before it all changed back in 1976, before that test pattern brought the future into our homes.

Change will always affect your life, but don't let it define who you are.


Andrew Porter said...

I take your sentiments to heart, Allister. Someone once said the world has always been going to hell in a handbasket. And it's true, as you say, that it's vital to prioritize love and caring, honesty and righteousness. The intrusive trend of technology, including not just personal devices but bioengineering and new weaponry, threatens education, wellbeing, survival, and the planet. I wonder how developing sound morals is challenged by such a trend. Morals develop in context, and if we are gunwale-high in solipsism or relativism or distraction from our natural (or social) context, one's moral center tends to dry out or develop weakly or become inaccessible. How, for instance, is 'righteousness' to be understood in a comparative vacuum? Self-definition is optimal, I think, when one's surround is healthy and beautifully self-defined.

Keith said...

An interesting personal journey, Allister. I question, however, whether 2021 really is the ‘scary place’ occupied by alleged boogeymen such as ‘screens and bots and AIs and algorithms’ depicted here. It’s still possible to remain human and live a life of noble values, despite such changes in technology in our lives.

The reality is that the world isn’t going to revert to pre-1976, nostalgia notwithstanding. To the point that change will continue unabated, even to accelerate, I was reminded of a recent example. The tale, briefly explained by CNN, is of what’s called ‘xenobots’: the first living robots that can ‘reproduce in a way not seen in plants and animals’.

Humble beginnings, perhaps, to this curious research thread of living robots, but nonetheless the stuff of imagination, human potential, and intellectual exploration. And a peak into longer-term prospects presented for greater understanding. One might see the future world of budding technologies as offering exciting promise, not reason for foreboding.

docmartincohen said...

I tend to lean towards the concerns of Allister in the blog and Andrew in his comment. Fears of the effects of technology are pretty old, but that doesn't mean they are always going to be misplaced. The Covid rules have been a big-wake up call to me: whole populations confined to their homes, forbidden to talk to other people, monitored constantly. Fundamental interactions - like saying goodbye to dying relative - forbidden on the say so of computer modellers with their fancy charts. Everywhere the state seems to have become a monster, armed to the teeth with the latest shiny technology.

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