Saturday, 10 January 2015

Walking backwards to the future

I love technology. I love to keep up-to-date with which companies are bringing out new devices, or updating their operating systems. I check out new releases of Linux distributions and have tried out literally hundreds of them on my own computer over the last few years. I also use a computer and a tablet every single day, and sometimes for four or five hours at a stretch. And as I work from home, I'm rarely out of reach of WiFi.

But more than technology, I love old technology. I adore any scene in a film where, about an hour into the movie, the main character searches out the only person in the city who can help to avert the alien threat. ('He doesn't do this sort of thing any more,' says his ex-boss at the underground government facility. 'He gave up on computers when he saw where they were leading civilization. You'll never persuade him to do it.')

When they eventually track down the guy who is their only hope, they find him keeping bees or tenderly trimming a bonsai tree. Of course, they persuade him to help, and then he begins to assemble a makeshift control centre from a Commodore 64, an Acorn A410 (which in the movie is incorrectly badged as an Apple Macintosh II) and one of those telex things where you put a telephone handset into a cradle (as seen in the film Wargames). 'I still know a trick or two,' he says, as he fires up the Commodore and begins to type, 'And these machines were built to last...'

Old technology: as I write this I am burning a couple of albums onto CD so that I can play them while I practice yoga. And to listen to them I will be using a small speaker linked to a Philips personal CD player which my sister gave me as a gift 12 years ago. Why will I be doing that? Because the CD player still works, and because my iPod can no longer hold a charge for more than about an hour and is, therefore, next to useless. And the smartphones? None of them is mine. I do have a new phone, a Sony Ericsson K501i, which was released in 2008 and which I bought last week from a local second-hand exchange store for £18. That, too, still works, and the battery life looks set to be about 7 days between charges.

I'm not sure where this mixed and contradictory approach to technology comes from, but I think there is sense of romanticism there. I simply love the idea that something built years, even decades, ago can still work and be useful today. And I cling to the idea that just because something was created in the last three months and is being sold today in a new wrapper, it doesn't mean that it does a better job than the old one, or the one before that.

Of course, I know that my personal CD player won't work for ever, though I can probably search on Ebay for a replacement. And I know that, one day, there will be no CDs available for me to burn music onto. Perhaps then I will open the windows, or take my yoga mat outside. All the music and technology in the world cannot improve on the song of the blackbird, which is here for a moment and then gone for ever.

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