We seem to have lost some of our sense of wonder about technology. Excitement and opportunity have been replaced by a general sense of fear about new developments. ‘Ugly’ wind turbines, carcinogenic foods, ‘dangerous’ mobile phone masts.
Where there’s not that visceral fear there seems to be something worse: apathy. We expect technology to be so amazing now that it has stopped wowing us. Even I, as a total gadget-lover, have found it hard to get excited about some of the latest products to hit the market. I’ve struggled to find products to put forward for the Life Lessons slot on Sam Walker’s snow. At Mobile World Congress I was ambivalent about the new range of devices on show.
Part of this is down to the way that technology development has changed over the last twenty years. No longer is all the cool stuff in new hardware. Rather the innovation is happening in software — largely on the web but also on platforms like Android and iPhone, and on the games consoles. Most of the hardware that this cool stuff runs on is just one form or another of computer. The form factor may have shrunk, the interfaces improved, and the power increased, but they are all fundamentally computers. From a hardware perspective, nothing really new.
I love cool software but it doesn’t quite engender the same excitement in me as hardware. I love building a new computer because it is about slotting the right parts together like super-expensive Lego. I loved choosing all the components of my home cinema system separately to build up the best system that I could for the money. If I was in any way half decent at coding, I might get the same thrill from software. But though I am a half-decent linguist, programming languages have never been a strong point.
Anyway, my point, and where this whole blog started, is that occasionally we need to remind ourselves just how far we have come. How amazing are the technologies that we consider mundane. I had a moment this morning where I thought about what my seven-year-old self would have made of my life. It’s something I do periodically, often as my next birthday approaches. Stood waiting at the station, I listened to Springsteen, checked where the train was up to, caught up on Twitter feeds, read a few emails, looked up some articles on the web, and played some games. I did all this on the same, tiny, thin, wireless device. What I would have given to have access to such a device at seven years old. All the entertainment, communication, and knowledge possibilities that it contained.
Just occasionally I think we all need to look at the world through the eyes of a seven year old, and realise what wonder we have created. It might make us all a little more excited and a little less fearful.