Thursday, January 11, 2007

The iPod: deskilling the nation

Long ago, when motoring was new, if you wanted to drive from London to Brighton you had to know how to fix the car if it broke down. And break down, it probably would - at some point. Witness the annual veteran car run.

More recently, manufacturers have improved reliability to the state where most owners never need to fix the car. And so they don't know how.

Recently, I tried to help my next door neighbour solve a problem with his new car. It didn't believe the tailgate was shutting - and so kept sounding the alarm. Keeping us awake - but that's not the point. The engine-bay was so neatly packaged that nothing could be examined without special tools. They obviously didn't expect - or even want - the owner to maintain the vehicle. As has happened with music and film, the buyer no longer owns the product. But that's a different rant - for another time.

My point here is that by making products inaccessible to the owner, and in less need of owner maintenance, we are in some ways worse off. Sure, the consumer will tell you that they want more reliable products; that they want to be able to use things without having to know how to fix them. Since when has the consumer really known what they want?

The iPod typifies this approach: a monobloc device, with pretty much a single button to operate it. Its runaway success was due to this neat packaging. It does exactly what is says on the tin - as that advert went. But: it's a disposable product. If (heaven forbid!) it goes wrong, it cannot be mended. Not by the owner, anyway.

My main problem with this is not the waste, or the advance in technology, but the dumbing-down of the people. These are just examples. There is a general trend; the same process can be seen in many walks of life. As a people we used to be capable and so able to adapt and survive. We are rapidly becoming slaves to our gadgets, and the worse off for it.

I'll just consult my PDA for my next meeting and .. argh! I can't find my phone. But I need to find out what's in my Google calendar. What'll I do now? I can't live like this ...

1 comment:

Stray Taoist said...

But it has given us a different skill set. We can free our mind from worrying about if it is going to break down, to construct problems about how we can use it to its full extent.

(My fave story was of this guy who, using the first gen iPods, connected to Macs in PC World, and nicked all the software installed there.)

The same way, much as I am loathe to admit it, using a word processor with spell check has released the mind to concentrate on the *story*, the *telling*, not worry about if it is "its" or "it's". Which isn't spelling. Damn. You get the drift.

Slace to gadgets? I use my phone to store numbers, so I don't have to remember them. I can look them up. This is what technology is for, enabling me to think other random thoughts. Hang on, that probably isn't a positive tick for tech, is it?

The disposable culture isn't all bad. I can ignore the disposable televisual culture with ease.

And 70s two-seater sports cars don't really breakdown, you know.