GIZMOS & GEW-JAWS.
Obligatory Opening Gambit To Grab Readersí Attention
Ė DRUGS Ė SCANDAL Ė FOOTBALL. Right, thatís done its job, as
usual. Now, read on.
Typical Alistair Cook Type Introduction (With Praise For American
Republican Senators Omitted)
In 1987 I embraced
digital technology with an almost religious fervour: at last, no more
horrible scratchy old records with their fragility, limited playing
time, noisy surfaces, dust encrusted grooves and clumsy storage. By the
end of the year I no longer possessed a single record. By the beginning
of the next decade (a little late, admittedly) I was computer literate
and I could take bytes out of that digital pie with the best of them. So
far, so good.
Then the internet was
introduced on a commercial level and matters became rather greasy. While
I was employed as a bouncer in various rave clubs for my Vietnamese
pals, for every rowdy, curtain haired Oriental teenager I tried to I
eject from the premises (and was beaten up in the process), yet another
dot com company would be set up. By the next month it would go bankrupt.
The incessantly relentless march of the mobile phone into every area of
our lives was further facilitated with invidious ease as they shrunk
ever smaller. Ultimately we are now obliged to genetically modify the
human face in order to decrease the area between mouth and ear so we can
actually use current models. All mobile phones will soon be equipped
with personal microscopes so we can actually see the numbers on the
keypads and weíll require surgically implanted micro-extensions on our
fingertips so we can use them.
Politically Correct Digression
Now hereís a fact
(Iíve done my research and checked it so donít try to be clever,
whichever door you open, Iím in first). In the 1990s we spoke of the
have and the have-nots. In the latest edition of Fortune 500, I read
about some American rat-bag who has just purchased a luxury sailing
vessel for £400,000,000. Perhaps now we should speak of the have and
the have-yachts. Now hereís another fact. The top 200 most wealthy
people on the planet possess more assets (or more money, if one chooses
to be vulgar) than the 400,000,000 poorest people. So, all things
considered, by and large, when you look at it simply, you could just
sell that yacht and give £1 million pounds to each of those 400,000,000
poor folk, aye?
Politically Incorrect (And Therefore Probably More Relevant) Digression
Now try an
experiment. If youíre reading this, it means you own or have regular
access to a computer with an internet connection. This means you do not
work on a collective farm, gathering sustenance for the masses to feed
them and thus provide nourishment for the workers. Therefore, you must
be a typical bourgeois lackey of the capitalist oppressors and so I spit
upon your pampered soul. Very well then, since you have an expendable
income that is disgusting, go to Tottenham Court Road and purchase an
electronic gadget. It can be a CD player, an old fashioned record
player, an I-pod, a digital radio, a DVD combined interactive whatever,
donít hold back, spend freely, you mad fool. However, thereís one
proviso: you must not buy any such item that has been made in Japan, nor
must you cheat by the purchase of any such item that has been assembled
in China or Taiwan because that will automatically be owned by a
Japanese firm. Japanese firms use cheap, exploited labour in China and
Taiwan because they can accrue far higher profits that way. I guarantee
you will not be able to do so. The Japanese attempted to invade China
and then the rest of the world from 1935 to 1945 and they did not quite
succeed. After 1950 they tried again only this time they adopted
economic and industrial power instead of military brute force. This time
they did succeed. Fascist groups in America and Europe claim it is the
Jews who seek to own and run the world. There is some truth in that Ė
but they will never achieve their ambition while the Japanese have any
say in the matter. As an aside, how many of the top 200 richest people
in the world are Jews? How many are Japanese? Why am I making this a
racial issue? Donít ask me Ė ask a Palestinian who has just had his
family butchered and his home demolished or a Chinese sweatshop worker.
Back In The Essay
The significance of
these digressions will become apparent later. If they donít, well, who
cares? Theyíve been stated and served their purpose. My opening
paragraphs state my basic support for and defence of technology. As I am
a minor member of a major music group, Iíll emphasise this fact by
taking my objections to vinyl records compared to my enthusiasm for
1) Records are large, heavy, clumsy and easily damaged by dust, heat and humidity.
2) Records only allow a maximum of 20 minutes duration per side prior to deterioration in sound quality for 12Ē long players and only 5 minutes per side for 7Ē singles.
3) Records are virtually useless for extended works that play without a break (i.e. Symphony No.9 by Robert Simpson) or for works that are generally very quiet where the sound of the stylus scratching the grooves of the record can be louder than the music itself.
Records cannot be copied by individuals on a mass scale so their
production remains strictly within the purview of professional pressing
plants which exclude ordinary people.
1) CDs are small, light and extremely durable.
2) CDs allow up to 79 minutes duration with absolutely no loss of sound quality.
3) CDs will accommodate long extended musical works and extremely quiet music can be played with complete fidelity.
CDs may be copied easily by individuals for comparatively low
cost which removes music production from the elitist corporate sector
into the collective hands of the individual.
When I hear these
tired, tedious, excruciatingly boring old bastards drone on and on about
this or that rare record which was only released in Italy on the
Squiggly Widget Label back in 1973 and so obviously they had no qualms
about paying £70 for it, especially as it features Quincy Jones having
sex with 2 Harlem hookers through a wah-wah pedal, I enter into Pol Pot
mode. With CDs, all that ludicrous crap is blissfully by-passed and we
can all own copies of this shite, should we be sufficiently sad enough
to desire it. Record collectors deserve to have their bodies forcefully
donated to medical research so that they may finally serve some useful
function in society.
Now letís perform
the same operation for digital communications.
1) Snail mail is slow, cumbersome and expensive.
2) Snail mail is not always reliable when items are posted to countries such as Malaysia and certain south American nations.
Snail mail is essential for physical items that exist in our
universe (books, CDs, clothes etc).
1) Electronic mail is fast and cheap but still cumbersome: in order to use it, you need first to be connected to a land-line telephone, then you have to buy a computer with a modem and finally you need to take out a subscription to a server to be connected to the internet. Here you can engage in a real time dialogue with a person 7,000 miles away and receive immediate responses to questions. This is simply not possible with the old method, which we can refer to as analogue communications.
2) Electronic mail is generally reliable regardless of the country with which one communicates. However, computer crashes (when a computer closes down the programme used and all data is lost) impose a serious impediment to this facility.
Electronic mail is useless for physical items that exist in our
universe. Music and text may be transferred, of course, which is
generally sufficient for literature but for music it is inadequate
because the quality is abysmal.
Now we can see the
difference Ė digital communications are generally preferable but the
advantages need to be qualified and there is not nearly so large a
difference as there is between records and CDs. CDs are infinitely
preferable to records and have in fact made records obsolete whereas
digital communications are merely slightly preferable to analogue
communications. Furthermore, digital communications have yet to make
their analogue cousins obsolete and perhaps never will entirely. Of
course, as technology improves, the problem stated in point 2) will
When I first started
to go to the clubs in the 1990s, occasionally youíd see trendy young
ravers with yards of plastic leads trailing from their heads like so
much white spaghetti. This was sufficiently unusual to cause remarks to
be made and interest to be aroused. Before the end of the decade, those
of us who preferred not to damage our ears, preferred not be totally
antisocial and preferred not to become mere mannequins for the display
of this monthsí fashion accessories, had become an eccentric minority.
I became addicted to play-stations. With the advent of the Grand Theft
Auto series of games I was soon a minor master of the PS2. By 2006,
however, I realised just how many hours I spent each week blowing up
tanks, machine gunning drug gangs or just driving around the streets for
fun. I was one of the fortunate souls in possession of sufficient
awareness that I realised I had to drastically curtail my daily digital
dose if I was lead a virtuous life in which I continued to make a
valuable contribution to society. This was not a case of Ďgrowing up
and maturingí. I was nearly 30 before I first started to use a PS2 on
a regular basis. I was 38 when I purchased my first copy of San Andreas.
Now we arrive at the
reason for this essay: the motivation behind the production of an ever
more bewildering array of electronic gadgets primarily marketed at
people aged 12 to 20. The obvious answer is that global corporations are
acutely aware of the mass market for such items among a young population
with considerable expendable income and they seek to exploit it as
aggressively as possible, with scant regard for ethics or labour. Yes,
thatís all present and correct, itís known as capitalism. However,
thereís more to it than just that. Sensible governments (that is,
those who seek to maintain their positions of wealth, privilege and
power) will not have forgotten the lesson of recent history: the extreme
opposition to capitalism in Europe, especially Britain, during the 1980s
in reaction to the economic policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret
Thatcher. The riots of 1981 were a rude awakening for the forces of
oppression. They have remained almost obsessively vigilant ever since.
If you doubt me, count how many CCTV cameras you can see on your street.
lesson western governments have learned: communist tactics of population
control are violent, messy, prone to critical publicity in the world
media and, worse still, can lead to a lack of confidence in the markets
which adversely affects foreign investment. In the 1980s the only major
distractions we had were sport (which for me meant cricket and what a
glorious decade that was, too), disco music (er, no thanks) and the
anarcho-punk scene (er, no thanks). Letís face it, given the choice
between lobbing a petrol bomb at a police barricade or going to see
Crass and Flux Of Pink Indians at a youth club in Sodding Frogmounting,
Iím fitting the fuses to the bottles before Iíve even heard the
names of the support bands. Pacifism is for poufs.
In the 2000s the
situation is radically different. We have X-Box, PS3, I-pods, internet
chat rooms, My Space, You Tube, eBay and personal blogs, all skilfully
designed and marketed to keep us amused, contented and quiet while the
backroom boys get to work invading countries, eroding union rights,
decreasing national health expenditure and carving up the welfare state.
Itís not so much that we donít notice whatís going on Ė we
simply donít even care. Life in the virtual world is so much more
rewarding. In Japan (of course) they now have 24 hour rooms which
you can hire to escape from the stresses and strains of daily life.
These rooms are environments dedicated to the immersion of their users
in total technology Ė there are plasma screen televisions, compact
disc players, DVDs, I-pods, computers with broadband internet
facilities, play-stations, X-Boxes and so on. The governments of Britain
and America must be drooling at their collective mouths at the prospect
of replacing ASBO laden youths with brain-dead techno-zombies too
lethargic even to spray a tag on the wall outside their Total
Remember: technology exists to be used by human beings Ė never, ever the other way around.
Andy Martin May 2007.