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Speeding up the process of stupidity
This Green and Surprisingly Pleasant Land - Technology
I am definitely feeling more stupid. Obviously it’s not my fault, it rarely is. The problem lies with technology.
I used to be able to remember a whole clutch of phone numbers but now barely know my own as there is no need to do so after becoming wholly reliant on numbers stored in what used to be called a telephone and are conjured up by pressing the name of the callee.
I have long prided myself on navigation skills but nowadays when driving I listen intently to the lady giving instructions out of the car’s dashboard which I follow blindly, even when she’s wrong.
Contrary to all current evidence I even used to be pretty good at mental arithmetic and could work out how to pay for things and get the right change. Now my mind goes blank when confronted with all those coins and rustling notes as most of the time I make payments by plonking a plastic card on a device which sometimes blips in approval and at other times get grumpy and rejects my plastic’s blandishments.
Then there’s the matter of writing. When I started work as a journalist we were supplied with hardy typewriters, sheafs of carbon paper and stacks of A4 paper (descriptions of these items can be found on the interweb). My employers also provided portable typewriters which, after being schlepped around, provided the equivalent of many hours spent weightlifting in the gym (not that I’ve ever been to such a place).
We were also supplied with notebooks and, if you were lucky, pens and pencils. Mind you if your employer was cheap (no names here but the folks who used to own The Observer know who I’m talking about) you had to fork out for your own.
With these implements in hand you would proceed to scribble down something called notes. Occasionally when you were not in the office and close to deadline you had to phone in your copy to the formidable band of copytakers back at HQ. This involved writing out whole stories in the aforementioned notebooks and reciting your pristine copy down the line. The dread words: ‘ is there much more of this?’, were employed with alarming frequency in my experience. Honestly, it made you despair over copytakers’ appreciation of fine prose.
Fast forward to modern times and you will see large banks of hacks tapping words into their computers, with not a notebook in sight. Some cheat and record interviews and even confine their profound thoughts to some kind of device inside the gubbins which proceeds to transcribe them into the written word.
And, because of predictive spelling and grammar and other cheatings devices changes are made to your sublime prose without even asking. Apparently there is an even scarier thing doing the rounds where one of these Apps simply goes off on its own accord and writes the whole story without you having to do a thing.
I must admit that the old ways had their downsides as I found when hauling out a selection of old notebooks. They were really hard to decipher prompting me to think seriously about getting in a person skilled in something like Egyptian hieroglyphics to help out but I was told that this was expensive and so tipped everything in the bin.
I even came across a bunch of manuscripts heavily soiled by words that were crossed out, with the application of Tipp-Ex correction fluid unerringly giving the impression of textual mumification.
The thing is that what used to be called writing was an infinitely more laborious process and forced you to think much more carefully about what you were doing. It is also just conceivable that the quality of the output was better. Long and learned debates can be held to discuss this thesis but the sad fact is that even old hacks like myself cannot contemplate going back to those good old days of manually doing everything for yourself, including thinking. But I do have my old portable in the cupboard because you never know, electric power supply is not a given and manual typewriters last forever.
What, you might ask, has brought on these musings? The answer is government plans to allow students in certain subjects to complete their examination papers online. Obviously I am jealous because people like me had to slog it out on paper but equally I have a nagging feeling that not even knowing how to do that kind of thing might just make the new generation more stupid. I had to wait many years before acquiring my current level of stupidity but they will be able to accelerate this process with aid of new technology – that’s what I call progress.
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