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The Obligatory Opening Gambit To Grab Readers’ Attention

SEX – DRUGS – SCANDAL – FOOTBALL. Right, that’s done its job, as usual. Now, read on.

The 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 we’ll require surgically implanted micro-extensions on our fingertips so we can use them.

The Politically Correct Digression

Now here’s a fact (I’ve done my research and checked it so don’t try to be clever, whichever door you open, I’m 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 here’s 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?

The Politically Incorrect (And Therefore Probably More Relevant) Digression

Now try an experiment. If you’re 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, don’t hold back, spend freely, you mad fool. However, there’s 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 – 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? Don’t ask me – ask a Palestinian who has just had his family butchered and his home demolished or a Chinese sweatshop worker.

Meanwhile, Back In The Essay

The significance of these digressions will become apparent later. If they don’t, well, who cares? They’ve 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, I’ll emphasise this fact by taking my objections to vinyl records compared to my enthusiasm for compact discs.

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 12” long players and only 5 minutes per side for 7” 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.

4)         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.

4)         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 let’s 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.

3)         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.

3)         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 – 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 diminish. 

When I first started to go to the clubs in the 1990s, occasionally you’d 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 months’ 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 ‘growing up and maturing’. 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, that’s all present and correct, it’s known as capitalism. However, there’s 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.

There’s another 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). Let’s 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, I’m fitting the fuses to the bottles before I’ve 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. It’s not so much that we don’t notice what’s going on – we simply don’t 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 – 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 Environment.

Remember: technology exists to be used by human beings – never, ever the other way around.


Andy Martin May 2007.



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