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A special moment

It is a routine complaint about modern life that “we” now have far too many gadgets for our own good, and maybe some of us do. (I just googled too many gadgets and got “about 150,000,000 results”.)

But then again, have a read of this, by blogger “6000″, who now lives in South Africa, about his last conversation with his beloved uncle Alan, who died yesterday in a hospital in the Isle of Man:

My brother had been over to see him on Saturday and while I wish that I could have been there too, I enjoyed a 20 minute conversation with him over Skype. My last memory of my Uncle Alan will be his disbelief at the technology in front of him as I showed him Cape Agulhas lighthouse and the turquoise Indian Ocean. He always loved anything to do with the sea. We even shared a joke or two. It might not have been the same as actually being there with him, but for me, it was a special moment – even more so now – and I hope that for him, it was a bit of escapism from his hospital bed.

The way to judge the value and impact of a new technology is not to look at the typical or average uses of it, but at its most meaningful and significant uses. Yes, modern toys are routinely used to exchange trivial chit-chat of no great significance. But so what? Where’s the harm in that? Even supposedly insignificant chat often means something very significant to those doing the chatting, even if some nosy eavesdropper with nothing better to do than moan about other people’s conversations might not be so diverted by it. I imagine that if you had been listening in on 6000 and his uncle last Saturday, you might not have been that amused. Like I say: so what?

And nor should “we” be badgered into looking only at the bad things that new technology can do, or help people to do. Yes, some of the newly enabled chit-chat is significant because it is malevolent. Modern toys are indeed used to do bad things, and to conspire to do other bad things. And airplanes incinerated cities. Cars have long been used to make getaways after bank robberies. Trains took innocent people to murder camps and soldiers to be slaughtered in wars. Sailing ships were used by pirates. Money gets stolen, and is then used to finance other crimes.

But are the facts in the above paragraph convincing arguments against the very existence of laptop computers, Skype, smartphones, airplanes, cars, trains, sailing ships or money? No. The good done by new technology when used by good people to do good things is by far its most significant consequence. Long may this continue to be true.

12 comments to A special moment

  • JohnB

    Skype is a brilliant tool and I like it and use it. Likewise email.
    But the rest of it is mainly supply side driven, in my opinion, to part idiots from their cash in the pursuit of status.
    I guess, somewhere along the line, one needs to rationalise one’s position regarding the total information collection, search and recall ability that now exists and increases at an exponentially increasing rate.
    But . . .

  • staghounds

    “to part idiots from their cash in the pursuit of status.”

    What’s wrong with that particular free exchange?

    (Assuming “idiots” is the speaker’s projecting, not meaning actual Downs Syndrome people whom I do not believe are keeping gadgetry afloat.)

  • A couple of thoughts, firstly in agreement with Brian. Every technological item is innocent of motive; it is but a tool.

    Secondly, in disagreement with his:

    The way to judge the value and impact of a new technology is not to look at the typical or average uses of it, but at its most meaningful and significant uses.

    I think this has to be weighted by cost, value and number of users. For example, the value of travel by car, train and plane is that it is now a commodity-priced item widely available. Its wide availability and use is what has changed the world; not that it is available to a social elite (and the military). Likewise the telegraph, telephone, radio (broadcast, and differently through mobile phones) and now the Internet.

    Best regards

  • JohnB

    Staghound, nothing wrong really. Free exchange. Yes.
    I think along the same lines when I see the “easy loans” TV ads. If people are so stupid to really raise GBP300 that way, then they can do it. And I guess they do because something pays for those ads.
    But it is silly and pointless, and people suffer.
    Same as pursuing status.
    Status hunters are a bit more dangerous as they can pollute places where status hunting is not an essential, and where people do live substantially free of that imperative, but that’s another subject.

  • Julie near Chicago

    There’s nothing immoral about gadgets, or toys, for goodness’ sakes. The problem arises when (1) you have to figure out where to put all this stuff, (2) where you’re going to find time or know-how to take care of it, (3) just how you’re going to pay for it, or following from that, (3a) you develop a psychological need to buy, or to spend money, or simply to acquire, that is as difficult to control as the person with “a gambling problem” has controlling his urge to gamble.

    Actually, there’s no need for anybody to justify to anybody else his purchase of a Kindle (except his wife, who had been thinking of using the money to buy food for the kids. Or a new outfit for herself). People seem to have them and love them. Personally I don’t get it. One of the last things I’d spend $ on! But I don’t think you all are Bad People just because so many of you have one.

    Not bad. Just misguided. ;) ;)

  • Runcie Balspune

    The examples of two-edged technology swords have nothing to do with the technology, robberies, genocide and piracy are the results of much deeper concerns. The biggest technological killer is the cheap ultrasound machine, but the problem is a culture the prefers male children. The blame of societies ills on technology has been around at least since since Victorian times, it has never had any merit.

    I’m from an age when my mathematics teacher drilled us to learn to do math in our head because “you wont be walking around with a calculator (app) all day”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Brian, I do want to thank you for the posting.

    It’s very moving, and of course it certainly does make the point that any given thing–tool, or gadget, or toy, or whatever–can make a world of difference to a user.

    I’m so happy that “6000″ was able to share his view of the sea and the world outside the hospital with his Uncle Alan. And that he wrote about it, and that you picked it up and posted it. Thank you again.

  • bobby b

    “The good done by new technology when used by good people to do good things is by far its most significant consequence.”

    “Technology” – my phone, my laptop, my semi-automatic pistol, my automobile that always gets me where I want to go – does neither “good” nor “evil.”

    Those are choices that I make, about my own conduct. The tools that are available to me to effectuate my choices are more effective than the tools my father used, and those were more effective than the tools his father used.

    If I choose to do evil, the jeans that I am wearing at the time (which allow me to travel about in public without being arrested) do not somehow join in with me in my evil intent. If I choose to do evil somewhere far enough away so that I have to drive my car to get there, nothing changes concerning the inherent goodness or badness of that car.

    No, the evil that men do is done by men. Not by telephones, not by Skype, and not by electronic banking systems.

    I’m probably being too picky about a minor choice of words, but if we allow for our new toys to possess some character of “goodness” based upon what we can accomplish with them, then we also have to allow for them to possess some character of “badness” when we use them with evil intent.

    And if we can do that, then we can shift some of the blame for evil deeds away from the evildoer onto his toys.

    And it’s not his toys which possess evil intent.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, I don’t think one can make that point too often.

    . . .

    No, you’re not being “too picky about words.”

    You’re right about the consequences. “Guns kill people. Guns are evil.”

  • Ljh

    I am happy that gadgets have made the world a smaller happier place. I may waste otherwise productive time surfing the net or playing games but I stay in close touch with family and friends across the globe, in a way ancestors who kissed their kin farewell and sailed away forever, would envy.

  • I may waste otherwise productive time surfing the net or playing games

    I happen to believe that that is not time entirely wasted either – YMMV:-)

  • Oops, the quotation tags played a trick on me…:-O