Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Vistas on the Horizon

The spasm of euphoria I suffered from yesterday over the fate of humanity, took a turn for the worse as I was reading news of advances on the computer front. Shortly, Microsoft will be unleashing their latest and greatest operating system, Vista, on their unsuspecting Research and Development department, the public. No doubt we can look forward to a few years of essential and absolutely vital updates as their unpaid researchers sort out the bugs and scrabble frantically to get their computers up and running again.

It will be just another expensive exercise in futility for those of us who use computers as a business tool and not to run pretty mindless games or download pornography.

I can and do use Linux for many applications, it’s practically free and practically bug-free as well, but compatibility with others using the Gates hegemonic system means you have to run Windows as well.

But it got me to thinking about the promises made for computers and, indeed, for most of man’s earlier inventions.

You may recall that we were promised the paperless office. Well, the very daring might try it still – but they’d better have some hard copies to back it all up. The result is that computers now generate more paper than ever before in the office and several rain forests must be trashed daily as a result.

In Victorian times, railways were to bring travel to the masses but now, judging from my recent experience, you need a second mortgage to get from London to Glasgow and there aren’t too many guarantees that you’ll make it in one, or on time.

The Wright Brothers should have stuck to bicycles, they were hazardous enough.

Air travel promised to whisk passengers en masse from gloomy Britain and elsewhere to sunnier climes, but only brought misery to the Costa del Sol, Majorca and other Elysian spots that thought they were safe, although the sun tan lotion people and makers of stuffed animals did pretty well out of it.

And television was to be the medium for bringing culture and education to the masses – and so it might, except the masses prefer to watch Big Brother. Therefore, those that run the stations prefer to run Big Brother in preference to anything that might look to be slightly cerebral.

Alexander Graham Bell should have kept his idea firmly locked inside his laboratory and confined his conversations to his assistant in the next room. “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" would have been quite enough. Spreading the idea around was the death knell of letter writing, and even the telephone is under threat from texting, where the next generation will undoubtedly have fingers especially developed for the purpose. It also means that we older ones will be virtually incommunicado.

Esperanto, that universal language, seemed like a good idea at the time but now the chances of bumping into an Esperanto speaker on the street are remote. English is now the accepted standard for international communication and this is probably a good idea. Or will be, once the British start speaking it again.

It seems to me that man’s brightest ideas are always bedevilled with potential downsides. The wheel was a serious mistake in view of its later incarnation, the automobile.

And even fire was not without its problems. Man brought light to the world (Creationists claim it was someone else) and those who now clamour for a shorter working week should remember, that until then, man (and sometimes woman, if she was not having a lie in) got up with the sun and went to bed at night, leading to an admirably shorter working day in Murmansk and Skelleftea during the winter, although they paid for it during the summer.

But it saved all that business of putting the clocks back and forth, thereby confusing people.

And millions of schoolchildren would have had much happier childhoods if some fool had not invented Trigonometry. Well, I would have, and I don’t believe I am alone in this.

Yet, in spite of all these obvious mistakes, man still blunders on trying to achieve new and patently unsatisfying goals.

I can’t help contrasting the fretful pressures of human life with the placid acceptance of the sheep, goats and donkeys that live around me. Except at mating time, all is at peace. They seem to have no political views, or even much in the way of territorial ambition, and a conversation with them is pleasantly unstressful. World wars rarely break out amongst sheep, I have noticed, and they have few differences of opinion over religion. Fanaticism is just not their thing.

And, as far as I’m aware, not one is going to upgrade to Windows Vista in the New Year. Perhaps this is why they’re so contentedly chomping away.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Gates.


Blogger Nej said...

The problem with Esperanto is that it was invented to solve a problem that didn't exist.

English has long been the accepted norm because the Empire ensured it was spoken the world over, at least as a second language. The Americans and Australians still speak a derivative of it to this day.

I actually work for a French company and English is our company language. If I have to goto Paris for a meeting and am the only English person there, then the entire thing is conducted in English. Good for me, as my French ce n'est pas tres bon.

5:59 pm  

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