Monday, January 29, 2007

The creases will drop out

Hanging intimacy, original image uploaded to Flickr by AnA oMeLeTe.

I was having a chat with a friend the other night and she asked me how I'd spent the evening.

'Ironing three weeks worth of washing', I said to her.

'Ha ha ha', says she, 'I don't own an iron'.

'Hmmmmmm', I thought, 'So how do you get your clothes neat?'

'Aha, that's easy,' she says, 'The creases just drop out'.

After a moment or two's scepticism, I realised she was deadly serious. Then the penny dropped.
'Do you mean to tell me that I have spent three hours doing all that sweating and toiling, and I could have saved all that by just hanging my clothes on a hanger straight out of the washing machine?'

'Yep.' she said - and although MSN is only text based, I swear there was an undertone of mischievious delight in her use of that three letter word.

So Grrrrrrrrrrrrr @ irons. Grrrrrrrrr@ all other technological devices, which the Germans might call Schlimmbesserung - a so-called improvement that makes things worse (as described in Howard Rheingold's delightful book 'They Have a Word for it'). Now okay I appreciate I may be viewing the role of the iron in a slightly skewed way, but hey, isn't technology meant to make things easy for us? So why do we have a device that makes no difference in the long run?

So from a Devil's Advocate point of view I wonder, are there any other technological devices that we don't actually need - and I'm not talking about automatically rotating tie racks either. Are we now in situation where each and every new ICT product or package is one that we use just because it's there? Or do we genuinely have a need and use for these new tools?

In previous times the audience held up lighters as a show of solidarity and understanding to accompany 'anthemic' tunes. Nowadays it's more likely that they will hold up mobile phones to capture a piece of video to upload to YouTube. No gig seems to be complete without a plethora of people holding up their phones to capture that 'moment'. Are these people videoing these clips for later use? Or will they never see the light of day again? If it's anything like my use of a Sony Discman, then that will be the case. That piece of hardware won't allow the sound files to be transferred into any other format without a set procedures rivalled only by the steps involved in the launch of the Space Shuttle. And I have recordings of some great concerts too! Oh and the grainy photo I took of Brian Wilson on the front row of the Royal Festival Hall when he played Smile for the first time ever, remains one of my most prized digital possessions.

But do these images, video or still, serve any purpose to us? In education we discourage children from using mobile phones, although some exciting projects do exist they are only employed in schools or by organisations that are willing to take risks with such technology, such as the now sadly pared-down Ultralab. I find it sad that this technology lies in the hands of some many of your students yet they cannot exploit them in school. In fact the only time young people seem to be seen to use such technology is in incidences of so-called 'happyslapping'. It would be so much better if we let them record the experiments they do in Science or their golf swing in PE instead of insisting their phones are off within the school's walls.

In some cases some organisations would seem to prefer that some technologies do not exist. As mentioned in another post in my Blog Mika was No. 1 with Grace Kelly. But not according to my local TESCO who had the charts showing 'Just Jack' as No. 1 in the singles chart. Yet this week, Mika remained at No. 1 and TESCO now has him in that position in their singles chart. Why would this be? Because the single was only available as a digital download last week and TESCO couldn't have the No. 1 single in their chart as being something they couldn't sell. I wonder if this means in future as more and more singles chart in high positions before the physical single is released, that shops will show their own charts that bear little resemblance to the actual charts, leading to fragmentation. I have not seen anyone report this yet, so maybe my observation is misguided, but I don't think so.

TESCO by choosing not to list Mika as No.1 in the charts had no idea how young people would mock their chart - as I overheard on my visit to the store yesterday. 'Thats not a real chart', quipped one boy within my earshot, 'It's false cos Mika's No.1. But don't worry mum I'll download it for you from iTunes when we get home'. It's almost like TESCO were afraid to admit that they were inferior by showing that the top selling product in a list was unavailable from their store - of course it wasn't available in ANY store! So like some Stalinist state they decided to pretend that it did not exist at all. But the young people in the store I was in noticed this and to them the chart was a laughing stock, just as people do when shown retouched pictures of Stalin when unfavoured people were removed from them.

Wesley Fryer's excellent post on Uth TV suggests that part of the reason for this, is that some technology is passing us Digital Immigrants by, whilst Digital Natives are using it and exploiting it - making many of us frightened of it and feeling unable to cope. Very much as I do when I look at the pile of ironing I have to do on a Sunday morning.

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