Online at last

Two of our friends have finally connected with the Internet. At last we can email them and receive emails from them. “But we won’t be looking at emails everyday,” they warned us. “Just every couple of days or so.” Still, it’s progress.

Their tardiness in joining the online community is all the more surprising given that both became used to using computers at work. Despite this – or possibly because of it – they felt no hurry to have an Internet connection at home. Now that they are connected (and have shyly admitted to looking things up on the Web), I wonder how long it will be before they are scanning their email several times a day like the rest of us. As with mobile phones, so with the Internet and the Web: you simply do not know how useful they are until you start using them. Then new horizons suddenly open before your startled gaze.

Change always carries a cost. For one thing there is the learning curve in getting to grips with the new technology and today’s new technology is apt to be very complicated and to require an effort to become familiar with it. While using new technology brings benefits, it also brings disadvantages. For example, carrying a mobile phone means you can contact anyone wherever you happen to be but, equally, it means you can be disturbed wherever you happen to be and at any time by anyone who has your number. The pessimistic turn of mind (and the British are very good at the pessimistic turn of mind) may make the adoption of new fangled devices seem more trouble than it’s worth.

Lest I be accused of arrogance, I will castigate myself for the same reluctance to embrace new things. When Windows first appeared, I tried it and dismissed it as too clunky. It got in the way, I complained, and I could do things a lot quicker from the command line. Multi-tasking? Who needs multi-tasking? Brains are single-tasking, I asserted, and having several applications open at once was unnecessary. Today, I of course laugh at the me of then. Today, I multi-task with the best of them. In fact, I would be lost without the possibility and on the rare occasions when I do return to a command-line environment it seems clunky and primitive.

When we do use new technology, it often provokes an evolution in our behaviour almost without our noticing it. When I bought my first mobile phone, it was strictly “for emergency use only”. I imagined my car breaking down in some remote spot and being able to call the AA to my aid and my family to reassure them that I was alive and well and would simply be a little late. I even thought of leaving the mobile in the car. Guess how long that phase lasted. I was soon using the mobile for all kinds of things and discovering just how useful it could be. Today, I would be lost without it and all its useful functions whose use has become second nature to me. It has supplanted many other devices and combined their functions in one small package.

Will the current breathless development of technology finally reach a calm plateau where we have everything we need and no further elaboration is possible? Perhaps, but it is impossible to foresee the future and all our attempts to do so turn out grotesquely wrong, as amusingly demonstrated by this excellent blog, Paleo-Future. The future is unlikely to be anything like we imagine it to be, whether for good or for ill (that British pessimistic turn of mind again), but the hope must be that whatever it is, it will continue to challenge our intelligence and by doing so expand our horizons.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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3 Responses to Online at last

  1. athinkingman says:

    I agree that most of us have an inbuilt resistance to change and want to avoid the pain of the learning curve until we have to.

    I think we sometimes suffer from a failure of the imagination too. As you say, we don’t know how useful things are until we use them. I remember vividly someone responding to the news that I had bought my first computer in disbelief: “What on earth do you want one of them for? What will you do with it?” Technology changes the future in ways that we struggle to imagine in the present.

  2. emalyse says:

    The Internet and technology is like learning a whole new language and it just doesn’t ‘click’ or come easily for some (it’s not just a young person’s thing-I’ve met 23 year olds who have less of an idea than 70 somethings in terms of really using technology as a useful tool). Some people don’t like the changed rules. An ex friend of mine fought tooth and nail not to get an email address as she felt that once she got on-line that she be obliged to answer emails from friends and family and that seemed to be an unbearable imposition (it takes all sorts). As for technology and the future I just hope it all gets more people friendly and more people driven rather than marketing driven.

  3. SilverTiger says:

    To athinkingman: It is indeed difficult to understand the utility or value of something we have never experienced. We are sometimes reluctant to make the effort to understand. On the other hand, there is a tendency on the part of industry to come up with news things, less for their utility than for the profit to be derived from foisting them on us. On yet another hand, if we are sensible and take only what we really need or want, this adds to the rich field of possibilities open to us.

    To emalyse: The ability and willingness to learn new things doesn’t necessarily go with age. I have heard again and again that there is now a well established community of “silver surfers”, for example, and I used to do classes in foreign languages for “third age” students.

    Ease of use depends partly on the complexity of the product and the ingenuity of the designers. Anybody who has used a Unix system from the command-line will appreciate how easy in comparison it is to use today’s graphical interfaces. On the other hand, increasing complexity of products brings increasing expertise on the part of users in its train. When I first started using computers, people gaped in incomprehension at what I told them about my work but nowadays, every second person I meet seems to know far more about computers than I do!

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