Y2K jpgI should have thought anyone kind enough to give this blog a passing glance would have recognised how completely unfocussed I am when it comes to selling my books. In fact, this space would be better entitled ‘Scattergun’ because I am constantly diverted. Well, off I go again, I’m afraid; although, to repeat my title, ‘Is there a plot in this?’
Remember the Millennium Bug? Not so long ago a substantial number of us believed that when the clock struck midnight on the New Year of 2000 every computer would crash and we would all plunge into darkness. That was so silly wasn’t it? Or was it?
Fifty years ago as a callow youth I worked at a desk writing (yes, writing) payslips for the gallant ladies who fed the children in our county’s schools. I had to press hard, because the sheets I used made three copies. There was no screen on my desk (or in the room, come to that), and no keyboard. When I wanted a letter written I scribbled a ‘rough’ and a typing pool of tippex-sticky females banged out a legible version of my words on a machine called a typewriter. It had these keys, and little mechanical arms which swung up and hit an ink-sodden ribbon, thus impressing a letter or symbol onto paper. Really weird!
Then I moved to a local newspaper and I had to learn to use one of those machines myself. I also had to learn shorthand, so I could take notes at interviews. I rode to interviews on a motorbike, having first looked up the address I wanted on the town map, and researched my subject through back-numbers of my ‘paper and the local library.
I would get frustrated at telephone operators who did not connect me to the right numbers, late trains and early buses. I would take pleasure in going to concerts with my first real girlfriend and dancing to music which was loud but not deafening, and in drinking without ever hearing the word ‘binge’. I could go a whole week without being lectured about my size (I was large even then) or hectored about my smoking (at least twenty a day) or accused of political incorrectness.
If I wanted to ‘phone my girlfriend I had to do it from home or a public call box. If my first ageing car broke down I had to walk. If someone wanted to contact me while I was out they had to wait until I got back.
At some stage a screen, then a keyboard, entered that office. Shortly after, the office itself, and the ten people who worked in it disappeared. The screen had grown a printer, and no-one needed clerks to press hard through three copies any more. No-one needed typewriters either, One administrator with the right softwear did the work of that room full of girls, so they too disappeared.
The local paper did not long survive the media machine as it grew and gobbled, gobbled and grew. We used fewer and fewer maps, because Satellite navigation doesn’t need paper. The disinterested monotone of the telephone operator was replaced by the even more disinterested abomination of the automated exchange. The mobile phone replaced the call box; the internet replaced the girlfriend.
Now I drive a car in which each pedal is connected to a computer chip rather than mechanical levers and rods. I do not have to listen to radio (though I prefer to) because I can have all my music on an IPod. I can even ‘phone people from my car. Do I want to – do I need to? Ask it (my car) and it will take me to the nearest MacDonalds; a run on average of two minutes, or to Pizza Hut. If I asked it, it would tell me how to get to Barcelona. Fortunately, I don’t have to go to Barcelona, so I needn’t ask. But it would if I did.
In fact, it could probably get to Barcelona by itself…..
I fly in ‘planes similar in their technical construction to my car. There is something perversely reassuring in the knowledge that when the pilot waves those stick things around they are connected to nothing but a computer management system. Knowing the trouble I have with computers myself I can imagine the issues if Kasperski decided that Paris Charles DeGaulle’s guidance system contained malwear and blocked it.
The trouble, you see, is this: they are still out there, those office workers, typists, administrators, telephone operators, cartographers, small-town journalists, bus conductors….they haven’t gone away. They aren’t built to be construction workers, or clever enough to be computer analysts, destructive enough to be electricians or violent enough to be plumbers. And as the world’s population grows, there are more of them – each day: with nothing to do.
Typically, youth unemployment in the Western World is running at between twenty and thirty percent, a figure unlikely to reduce. No-one wants to employ them.
Extrapolate another fifty years at this rate and all the functions necessary to sustain civilisation will be achievable with a total workforce of six.
How will the rest of us pass our time – will we move around a lot more? Will we be able to afford to move at all?
If we don’t start to change things now, some form of revolution, whether peaceful or otherwise, seems inevitable. So what – a kind of Fahrenheit 451 against technology? Maybe some kind of Millenium Bug equivalent?
Funny old thing, progress. Still at least the trains will still be late and the buses come when they think they will. Not everything will change.