In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Monday, December 01, 2003

The Light of Perverted Science

We live in an age where, at least in the Western World, technology affects and influences every aspect of our lives. Cars, planes, consumer electronics, the internet, pc’s and mobile phones; are but a few of the myriad of scientific wonders that were designed, and marketed, to improve the quality of our daily lives.

Little more than a century ago our grandfathers could have only dreamed of the power, and the uses, of technology that we now take for granted. Yet are we the masters of this technology, or are we adapting our lives to suit the technology?

This thought struck me the other day as I was leaving a hotel lobby, and walking into the windy wet London street outside. There, sheltering against the side of the hotel, were two businessmen earnestly talking into their mobiles which were pressed to their ears. They looked cold and wet; yet, presumably so that they could talk away from prying ears, they stood outside in the damp and wet.

The question arose in my mind; why not make/take the call at a more convenient time, and location? I suspect that like many others who possess a mobile; instead of using it only when they want, and turning it off when not required, they had become slaves to the idea that it must be left on at all times just in case it rings.

We have all seen fellow airline passengers who, when boarding a plane, have to be reminded to turn their mobiles off. The palpable look of relief on their faces when they disembark, and can reconnect to the ether, is enhanced by the cacophony of bleeping and shrill ring tones emitted by the dozens of mobiles that have all been switched on at precisely the same moment by the other disembarking passengers.

What is so urgent that they cannot wait for the privacy of their car, or home, before reconnecting? The prime example of addiction comes in the form of the gormless teenagers who walk around with mobile phones perpetually glued to their ears, discussing events of mind boggling insignificance; whilst they run up a phone bill of three digits or more.

The reason for this phenomenon is that people have lost sight of the original concept of the technology that they use. Namely, that it was designed to make their lives easier by working for people; not the other way around. People have instead adapted their lives to work for the technology.

I will give you five random examples of other technological innovations, introduced in the last 100 or so years, that we now serve instead of vice versa:

 The car, originally designed to improve the speed and comfort of travel for the individual, is now a hindrance to convenient travel and a blight on the environment. The road network in many Western countries is now so jammed, and the air so polluted, that congestion charging is being introduced to place a limit on the number of cars. Indeed in London, the speed of travel of the average car is in fact slower that that of the Victorian horse and carriage that it replaced.

 The television is a source of entertainment and information, it is now so popular that almost every household in the West has at least one TV set. Yet instead of entertaining and stimulating, it more often than not anaesthetises the viewer. The television age has seen an increase in obesity brought about by the “couch potato” syndrome; as people place themselves in front of the set for a solid four to five hours per day. Social interaction, eg eating together and going out, has declined; as people now order takeaways, and eat in front of the television in silence. Educational experts have noted that the TV generation of children are less adept at social and communication skills; as their parents use the TV as a form of childcare, rather than interact directly with them.

 Email was designed to eradicate the need for “snail mail”, and bring individuals written communication at the speed of light. The problem is, as with mobile phones, people have become addicted to the need to check their mailbox; witness the withdrawal symptoms of the executive away on holiday without twenty four hour direct access to his/her mailbox. The chances are that you will find them surreptitiously sneaking off to the hotel’s pc, and logging in to get their “email fix”. I would also point out that all of us with email are now inundated with spam offering us unwanted garbage, ranging from penis enlargements to Nigerian scam letters .

 Ready to eat meals were designed for the busy person, who does not have time to cook every day. The reality is that these culinary abominations were created (and marketed on television) so that people could spend even more time in front of the television, instead of devoting a little creative energy and thought to the preparation of a home cooked meal. Aside from the obvious stress reducing advantages of preparing food, I would suggest that the ready made meal has a number of disadvantages. It is more expensive than home cooking, it contains more sugar, salt and other nefarious chemicals than are good for you; and it simply does not taste like home cooking.

 Breast enhancements were designed to improve the psychological well being of those women who were seriously affected by their self perceived modest bust size. Now breast enhancement is a multi million dollar industry. Having a “boob job” is a must for every talentless model and actress; as they aspire to the plastic perfection of their childhood dolls.

Like anyone brought up with servants, we have become dependant on the technology that was designed to free us; take it away, and we show withdrawal symptoms. Our lives, as Winston Churchill once warned, are being illuminated by the light of perverted science.

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