Sunday 23 October 2016

Video and the radio star - George Hook's concerns about technology

He loves technology, but George Hook worries about its possible adverse effects on the human race

Published 01/02/2016 | 02:30

George Hook is concerned about technology side-effects.
George Hook is concerned about technology side-effects.

My best friend and I sat in the car waiting for the AA man to come. No, we were not drunks, but rather technically incompetent car owners. The problem? We could not find the spare wheel in the car. The dastardly French who had designed the Peugeot, instead of putting the crucial item in the boot, had hidden it under the car.

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The man in the yellow van fixed the problem, but motor cars have remained a mystery to me all my life. I once had to break the petrol cap on a rental car because I did not know there was a switch next to the driver's seat. And I have never been able to open the bonnet of any car I've owned since my first Ford Cortina, 50 years ago.

Even now, after three months, as my burgeoning wealth has me in a Mercedes, I cannot find the slot for my Elvis Presley CD. Why, then, with this history of failure, have I become such a whizz with phones, computers and the attendant social media? The answer lies in the past; the 1980s, in fact. The video recorder was becoming an item in Irish households at the time, but setting the timer to record a movie and, more importantly, a rugby match, was a nightmare.

Jimmy Davidson, the then Irish rugby coach, asked me to be the first video analyst to the national team. That meant learning the vagaries of the recorder. Not only did I become an expert, but the mornings of home internationals saw me driving around south Co Dublin, setting the timers on the recorders of my friends. As the technology improved, I learned with it and discovered a hitherto unknown interest in things electronic. I had an insatiable desire for gadgets. Laptops, phones, iPads . . . all found their way to work and home.

Native Americans used smoke signals to communicate, the tribes of Africa used drums, and the hog callers of Switzerland, the voice. Now, television could instantly bring the Super Bowl into our living rooms, and in colour, to boot. Now, I could communicate equally quickly with people across the globe, without the benefit of expensive and intricate technology.

As I write, 163,000 people follow me on Twitter and give vent to their anger, frustration and joy with a maximum of 140 characters. The word count is a wonderful incentive to being concise.

WhatsApp is on my phone, and everybody in the family shares news, comment and pictures with everybody else. A whole new vista has opened for grandparents, as they can 'ooh' and 'aah' at children and grandchildren thousands of miles away on Skype.

The dreaded cost of a long-distance phone call is no more as WhatsApp, Skype and Viber have been downloaded to make cheap, or free, calls. In the bad old days of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs running our communication services, calling abroad was a problem. When I tell my children that, in 1965, the waiting time for a new phone in the home was three years, they simply refuse to believe me.

In fact, my grandson looked blankly at me when I talked of a telephone kiosk. The story that, when courting their grandmother, who was in Manchester, I would put cash in a slot and press button A to talk to her for three minutes, caused howls of laughter.

There are downsides to all this instant communication. When one wrote a letter and put a stamp on the corner of an envelope, there was a period of reflection before posting, and many a letter was torn up after due consideration. Now, the 'send' button is pushed and the offending mail is gone in to the 'cloud' to stay forever, and, unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, will never deteriorate.

Youngsters post thoughts, pictures and sentiments, without considering the long-term effects. Jobs have been lost, relationships broken and public humiliation delivered by a failure to understand that the new technology has weaknesses as well as strengths.

Men and women, it seems, can no longer take part in the courting ritual without first anonymously making contact online. Companies carry out interviews on Skype, and solicitors trap insurance fraudsters through their Facebook accounts.

In the movie Planet of the Apes, humans had lost the power to speak and only the apes could communicate. It could happen, if this technology continues unbridled.

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