Ok ladies and gentlemen, let’s settle this once and for all…. size DOES matter. Well, at least where technology is concerned.
As technology develops and advances, gadgets often alter in size. Computers are generally getting smaller and smaller, while TVs are mostly getting larger. Mobile phones started off massive, then shrank during the 90s and 00s, and are now getting bigger again to accommodate the vast array of mostly useless features crammed into them. In all honesty, who cares what the weather is like in Nicaragua, or how many Vietnamese Dong you can get to the pound?
<giggles childishly at Vietnamese Dong>
It’s all very confusing. Should I be getting a huge plasma TV to cover one entire wall of the lounge, or a tiny little one that I can carry around in my pocket? If you believe the multi-billion pound corporations and their clever marketing, you really can’t live without both. It’s ridiculous. I’m sure that a massive plasma screen enhances movies and sports to a previously unseen level of clarity and definition, but is that really so very important that it warrants spending over a grand, when it’ll make little or no difference to 90% of the TV you watch? I love Pointless (have I mentioned that before?), but I don’t want Richard Osman’s head taking up half our living room wall and giving the kids nightmares.
Equally, if we consider the other extreme, I don’t want a tiny TV in my pocket either. What if I accidentally knock it on when I reach for my wallet, and turn Masterchef on? No one in their right mind wants to glance down at their trousers and see Gregg Wallace’s big shiny face grinning back at them, especially not from a position dangerously close to their crotch. Imagine if he was in the middle of eating a sausage?
Yet the gadgets keep on coming, and so long as there are sheep (sorry, ‘people’) who will continue to queue up at 3am in the rain for the latest technological release, if only to ensure they get it before their friends, the manufacturers will continue to develop and sell them by the bucket load.
The problem with this, is that the corporations start to get greedy (well, greedier) and the releases become more and more frequent as they all rush to try and beat their competitors to the next big thing. You could argue that it would be far better for them to take their time developing a truly ground-breaking product that everyone will want (or think they need), but of course that wouldn’t make the manufacturers anywhere near as much money. Far better to knock something together quickly, market it as the latest must-have, and then inform everyone a month or so later that it’s now out of date.
Every time Apple release their latest i-gadget, thousands of people will queue up overnight, ready to fight their way into the store as soon as the doors open. Sometimes they can be stood there for days, soaked in their own piss and wasting away from hunger, while the frostbite slowly claims another finger or toe. These are generally the sort of people who attend Glastonbury each year for much of the same. Yet they brave the elements in order to be one of the first to own whatever Apple have spewed out this time, because they have been brainwashed into thinking this is more important than keeping all their limbs.
If they had any common sense, they would just wait a week and buy the product (if they still must) like normal shoppers do. But each time something gets released, the queues seem to be even longer than before. The companies see these queues, and each individual person suddenly turns into a pound-sign, with the result that the releases become more and more frequent. If this carries on, there will come a time when people will get to the front of the queue, only to be told that the product is already outdated and has been replaced.
The problem with rushing products onto the market, is that the quality invariably suffers. Ok, I might be influenced here by the fact every piece of technology I own appears to have gone tits-up in the last month or so, but I can’t help thinking that the more companies hurry to get a product to the masses, the greater the chance that it isn’t very good and, more importantly, doesn’t seem to work for very long.
For example, I’ve had my current mobile for about 18 months, and in fairness it has actually been quite good compared to some I’ve had in the past, but apps have now started failing and shutting down all over the place, the predictive text seems intent on making me look an utter pillock with fat thumbs, and I’ve had to replace the battery three times – most recently just a few months ago, and it’s already going from full charge to dead in just a few hours.
How can this be, when I am still using the same calculator that saw me safely though GCSE Maths in 1996, and the battery hasn’t let me down once? I’ve never taken the back off the calculator, but I’m willing to wager that the battery is considerably smaller than the one in my phone, so why the hell aren’t they still using the batteries that were developed in the 90s? I’d happily sacrifice some of the phone’s storage and capabilities, if it meant the damn thing would stay on long enough for me to make a call.
My first ever mobile phone, the Phillips C12, was extremely basic but it didn’t break once, not once, and I don’t think I ever had to re-charge it. I must have binned it in the end, as I certainly don’t have it now, nearly twenty years later, but if I were to discover it hiding somewhere in the house, I bet the battery still hasn’t run out. Resilient little bastard it was. Why don’t we still make them like that?
It’s the same with all technology, though. Advancement is all well and good if it actually makes things better, but if it doesn’t, then why aren’t we leaving things the same size and making them the old trusted way? Nearly fifty years ago, man set foot on the bloody moon (unless you believe the conspiracy theories), yet when the engine management system went on my car last month, even the people who designed it couldn’t work out what was wrong. How is that progress?
Ok, you could argue that the expense of building cars from the same materials as NASA space shuttles wouldn’t really justify such a shift in technology; but I’ve seen Apollo 13, and I know full well that Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and that other chap (not Gary Sinese, the other one who went in his place because he had ‘flu, you know the one I mean) were all able to get safely back to earth using only the sort of equipment that gets your average Blue Peter presenter all tingly.
The trouble is, as technology advances and becomes more complicated, there’s more potential for things to go wrong – and when they do it can be very expensive to fix or replace. My beloved car being a good example of this, as I have now spent over £700 with Ford and it’s still no better.
Then, as if my phone and the car weren’t enough, last weekend the TV (a perfectly satisfactory 32”, I might add) decided we would be far better off watching everything with no sound. Neither of us wanted to be the first to admit we’d gone deaf at 35, so we just sat there for a few minutes pretending nothing had changed. It was only when we realised that neither of us could hear anything, it became clear that the TV had gone the way of the car, the tumbler dryer, and countless mobile phones – none of which have survived more than a couple of years without breaking.
Like most families, we simply cannot function without a television in the corner of the lounge, as this means we have to actually interact with each other, so I had to sneak into Ollie’s room while he slept, and steal his paltry little 19” one.
I won’t lie, initially it came as something of a culture shock to be watching such a ‘small’ screen, and I feared that others would think less of us if they found out. In modern society, watching a 19” television is basically seen as a sign of poverty. I was half expecting us to feature on some kind of charity telethon for the impoverished: “Just £300 could get this family a reasonably-sized TV, so they don’t have to sit six inches from the screen anymore. Please give what you can.” Then it cuts to someone from One Direction or Little Mix wiping away a tear, before the screen fades and we’re back to Terry Wogan wondering where the fuck he is, and why he hasn’t got his slippers on.
But if we’re honest, a 19” TV is absolutely fine, and it has certainly lasted longer than the other one. Ok, it’s about ten years out of date, and it isn’t very advanced in terms of what it offers, but that’s precisely my point. As soon as technology advances, there are more things that can potentially go wrong and, inevitably, they always do – often within a year or two of purchase, when the warranty has just conveniently expired.
I’m all for technological advancement, but only when it’s actually necessary and makes a real improvement to the status quo which, these days, is rare. Fair enough, we’ve seen some great inventions over the last twenty years or so – DVDs, ipods and Sky+ to name just three – but then we’ve also seen inventions that we don’t need at all and, frankly, they make things a whole lot worse.
For example, I could write an entire blog entry about the abomination that is the self-service checkout (which cannot ever replace the human sales assistant, because we still need them to put in their special code when the machine inevitably decides that there is something unexpected in the fucking bagging area), and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In 1989, the sequel to my favourite film of all time was released – Back To The Future Part II. In the second instalment of the trilogy, Marty McFly travels forwards to 2015, and the producers had to envisage what it might be like. Ok, they were a little off with the flying cars, but they also never imagined we would be doing all our own scanning and packing in supermarkets either, and there is a very good reason for that – it’s not progress.
So, this is a plea to all technology companies: I would like a phone on which I can make calls without the battery dying twice a day; a TV of reasonable size (with both pictures and sound please); a car that moves when I tell it to, not when the mood takes it; and for all self-service checkouts to be dismantled and melted down – along with Brian from those Confused.com adverts. Is that too much to ask?
Essentially, I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I’d quite like the 1990s back, please.
Oh, but if you could hurry up with those hoverboards….