I have always had mixed feelings about telephones, that is since I started reading Agatha Christie’s whodunits and realised that the simple plots were always the most likely. I prided myself on being able to point out the guilty party as soon as she had finished introducing her list of likely suspects. The telephone came into its own with Agatha, the voice at the end of the line that could or could not have been who it claimed to be-or the crackling fuzzy sounds with a sudden cessation of transmission that suggested a bit of sinister wire tapping or that the dizzy old spinster at the village post office was listening in, with no good intent!
Christie brought the English village back into its own. Historically hotbeds of intrigue and anti-state rumour they now could recapture their former glory as the places that had old-fashioned pubs with creaky floorboards and windows that led out on to soft grass where a body could fall without much of a thud. It was all so deliciously mysterious and creepy; and also challenged young readers to be deductive.
English literature has a whole dynasty of detectives (amateur and otherwise, from schoolchildren to old age pensioners) the most widely known having ‘clubs’ of their own. The one that springs most readily to mind is Sherlock Holmes. Currently the popular will has brought him, in the person of Benedict Cumberbatch, back in a TV series using the technology of the present day.
Going forward to today (as they say on American news’ programmes) how do we see that? Well, personally it’s a vast disappointment that our younger generations are communicating with technologies that serve the secondary and tertiary functions of language and not the primary. Try attracting any of today’s teenagers away from the ubiquitous mobile phone and the response is a deafening silence, particularly if they happen to have earphones that deliver the latest twaddle right through to their brains. Tsk tsk.
When we consider that the birth of languages, probably the greatest miracle humanity has ever had at their disposal, made it possible to truly communicate and organise tasks, tasks that built the pyramids (okay slave labour but we wouldn’t even know that were it not for the primary function of language, communication between human beings; and then with gestures and so forth to other animals).
For those of you with sufficient deductive power left, who have had the courage to unplug your computers from time to time and lock up the mobile phone that is finally getting on your nerves, I recommend watching a couple of episodes of the Big Bang Theory. You won’t learn anything new but you will get to laugh at the human foible of over-reliance on algorithms. I recommend watching it to all those who believe that we are shortly to be taken over by machines run by algorithms.
Sadly we are far more willing to believe that machines can take over than we are to understand the human brain, which has not really been used to its fullest extent; and neither the brains of other animal primates.
The Planet of the Apes makes more sense than the war of the machines frankly, after all there’s always a plug you can pull (whether inside or outside) on a machine- I doubt if any primate would be willing to disclose his/her socket, not even that most gullible of primates, the human!
Of late there has been a shower of ‘learned’ books explaining how we will shortly be enabled to live forever. They don’t offer an exact algorithm for that but I believe there are ‘cryo companies’ who embalm and freeze bodies so that they can wake up after a century or two and carry on where they left off. As yet no one has explained who makes the decision to revive such ‘hopefuls’. Added to which if we all did it that who’d pay outstanding bills etc.? The answer to that, of course is that you are charged so much upfront the owners of the company will be long gone before they run out of money. Then, should there be an earthquake, a huge flood, and cyclone whatever, we might end up with the sad sight of so many pre-frozen people landing up a creek without the proverbial paddle. For those expectant of pre-heavenly deliverance I hate to mention that this smacks of another big scam. Who believes such poppycock?
Well, plenty of people will if we can’t provide them with more food for thought than they find on their mobile phones and selectively stupid webpages. The inventor of the web thought of it as a great aid for sharing human knowledge. The web expanded in leaps and bounds and now we face the challenge of controlling its other tendency, which is to share human stupidity! It’s so easy for different interest groups to take charge of portions of the web; and cyberspace is limitless. But let’s not blame the digital revolution alone for the ills that beset us today.
In many societies the 19th and 20th centuries picked up the most lurid parts of their inheritance and fed it to the masses in the name of entertainment. Never was it so prominent than in the nascent film industry. Then as now, it’s not the great actors and actresses that attract audiences but ones with shaking bottoms and bulging biceps. What to say, this appeals to the masses and it pays and keeps the film industry going, particularly in our part of the world! But wait, the counter argument is that it was, in the past, those the intellectual and aristocratic snobs call masses that built temples and cathedrals to the glory of all the gods one could imagine. It was the so-called ignorant masses that kept alive the bhajans/hymns of these same gods and laboured away at monuments they could never hope to see completed---content enough to know that their progeny would witness the completion of the beauty their ancestors aspired to show.
Although living in the 21st century has led us to believe we are superior actually that isn’t quite true. Four hundred years ago an author called Shakespeare had written a pamphlet on the evils of racism and prejudice for reasons of religion, skin colour etc. I’ve yet to acquire a copy now that The British Library is releasing the obligatory quota of documents for that era, but I’m curious to read his arguments against ills that still colour so many societies today. Let’s take a pause, unplug this heady joy ride we’ve embarked on and reach once more for the stars.
“Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”*
* Robert Browning ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’