Future of Technology

I’ve never been entirely comfortable about modern technology, and I have an inkling the feeling is mutual: modern technology does not feel confident that I know what I am doing with it, and it could be right.

Take this mobile phone business. I grew up in a home without any telephone at all. It would have made no difference if we could have afforded one and installed it: we didn’t know anyone else who had one so there was no-one to call. Then my uncle got promoted at the bank so one was provided for him free at home in case of emergency. We all went round to look at it, but it still seemed an unnecessary luxury.

When I was in my mid-teens, my dad also got promoted at the bank and we moved to a flat above the branch he managed. An extension line to the domestic premises meant we too were now connected to the outside world. But making calls to others? Receiving calls from them? My goodness, think of the expense! Reserved strictly for emergency situations.

Well ok times and circumstances change, by the time I came to live in Hong Kong in 1972 many homes here had a domestic line, but there was a monopoly service provider and if you lived in a remote area there was a long wait to be connected. Ending that monopoly did not change the situation very much at first because of the cost and difficulty of setting up parallel networks. International telephone calls were still a major logistical challenge, as you had to book a booth at a set location and somehow arrange for the people at the other end to be waiting for your call at the agreed time.

That situation was transformed, first when technology allowed calls to be made from your own home, then when opening the market to competing service providers substantially lowered the cost.

The first mobile phones were surely a joke. They were so heavy you had to be either an Olympic weight lifter or prepared to risk a hernia to carry one around. The real revolution came with the development of ultralightweight phones that a child could carry. Indeed many children feel naked without one. (“But Mummy, I’m eight now and the only person in class without one”).

At first I resisted having one at all: it seemed an impertinence that others could call me whenever they wished. So I required my escorting officer to carry one, and you called him stating why the business was important and urgent. If I agreed with your assessment, I called you back. Then I relented, and carried an old Motorola fliptop for years, only abandoning it when the recharge portal became so worn the battery could not be re-energised. So, yes, I succumbed and now have the piece of fruit level five. It still does far too many things I don’t understand – mine for example insists on taking photos of its own volition. But they don’t bother me too much because I don’t know where to find them in the software.

I don’t know whether my old friend Nick Yang will succeed in getting his new bureau. But I hope if he does he remembers others of our generation and introduces legislation requiring all mobile phone sales to people over the age of 30 to be accompanied by a free mandatory training programme so we don’t sound so stupid when talking to our children.

Mike Rowse
email: mike@rowse.com.hk