Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Techno-phobia

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Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with new technology. Once upon a time, I was actually an early adopter. After buying my first modem, I recall typing in the word “Photography” and calling up only six sites, all featuring a few stamp-sized images. I took prehistoric PC, DOS and Mac courses, bought graphic-starved CD-ROMs and even studied early HTML. But keeping up with the digital Jones’s eventually began to wear me down. Today, I consider myself only slightly ahead of a Luddite, resistant to many of the new-fangled devices because, too often, rather than saving me time, they eat it up. For me, updates have become the equivalent of 1950s tail fins. No sooner do I buy the latest model than a sleeker one instantly appears, leaving me frustrated that I invested time, money and energy in something rendered obsolete overnight.

I would be back in the prime of my youth if I could reclaim all the hours spent trying to master new software, struggling to recall what password to use for which application or get help from a distant call centre. Add to this the time-sucking reality of social networking and suddenly a cold, dank cave, far from the madding computer, sounds appealing.

So what are we to make of this? The old expression “A change is as good as a rest”—coined over 100 years ago—now takes on post-modern irony given that technological change is usually anything but. Interestingly, this British expression emerged squarely at the nexus point between the Victorian and the modern age. Like us, the late Victorians were assaulted with bewildering technological developments. Within a decade, cars, telephones, electricity, cinema, gramophones and even airplanes were sprouting like weeds across the countryside. Given the much slower pace of life back then, these new technologies must have felt equally or even more stressful than our own.

In those days, it was the Futurists who were the early adopters, those worshippers of mechanical technology. They waxed on about the motorcar in the same way that Steve Jobs hyped iPhones. They even wrote a Manifesto, detailing the relative aesthetic merits of automobiles versus iconic works of fine art. Literary authors of the period appear to have been more circumspect, since many (like Henry James) simply wrote about earlier times or (like H.G. Wells) the future. Still others (like the young D.H. Lawrence) began to focus on the lives of workers who bore the brunt of change.

Is it any wonder that many of today’s print and electronic content creators have adopted similar strategies, setting their stories in pre-Smartphone eras or indeterminate futures? After all, how do you begin to write intelligently about a mercurial present that changes even before you go to print?

Is any of this molded plastic as significant as the marketers would have us believe? Certainly, social networking has revolutionized how we communicate, and as we become dependent on mobile devices, so too will we adopt artificial intelligence to retain our competitive edge. Still, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate how each new technology echoes an earlier one and much of it is really about convenience and profits, rather than anything meaningful.

Consider: the One Percent continues to enjoy wealth and power, as it has since the time of the pharaohs. The world remains full of sick, disadvantaged and abused people. We still have wars and an economic system based on unsustainable, self-serving growth and environmental degradation. Show me an App that solves any one of those human injustices and I will be an early adopter.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

David Tucker

David Tucker is an award-winning television writer, producer and director. His short story collection, One Way Ticket, is published by BookLand Press.

Go to David Tucker’s Author Page