Thursday, 28 August 2014

Some thoughts on time travel

No, nothing to do with killing your grandfather or sleeping with your grandmother...

This is a meme that's been at the back of my mind for some time now, but it was brought to the fore when, having moved to a new town, I gave our ten-year old a map and asked him to plan a walking route.

Not that he did badly; there's a lot of arcane symbolism on an A to Z if you're a ten-year old, although I would have thought going around one, not two, sides of a triangle would have been intuitive.

No, it was a large foldy piece of paper in the hands of a digital native.  Because he will grow up with a device, not a physical unwieldy map, in his hands.  And a device that translates and advises to boot.  And tells him where he is without having to look up a road name and then cross reference column and row and stare into the detail of a medieval streetplan, or line up churches, copses and hilltops on both paper and in reality.

Because they are all burdens which will be taken off his shoulders; necessitating skills, like hunting bison with sticks, which will become redundant.  His life will be easier than ours, particularly when we have connectivity up Everest and on the streets of El Dorado.

But - and this is where I don't know whether I'm being a seer or a fool - this is where I have a problem. Because challenges beget skills and abilities.  And without challenges we need be little more than Cartesian brains in jars.

Our generation learnt to read maps and then use maps.  His generation will simply be told where to go. There's a difference.  Our generation had the 'why learn maths when I can learn to use a calculator' question; his will ask 'why learn to do anything?'.  I genuinely wonder why we continually challenge him to improve his handwriting when he'll type virtually everything.

I've long thought that if and when the balloon goes up - let's say that sci-fi chestnut of the electromagnetic pulse that knocks over any silicon-based technology - that any fourteenth century youth would survive far longer than one from my generation.  He'd be able to catch, kill and cook his own dinner.  Mine would be looking for the tin opener and matches.  But my ten-year old's would be looking for the Ocado van and the fire-making app.

However, it's only just occurred to me that this process is on-going.  As technologies replace challenges (like the word processing package built into this blogger that takes the pressure off my being able to spell) our raw abilities erode.  And it's still going on.

So what of the future?  TV dinners mean some can't-cook-won't -cook; will food synthesis make it a completely lost art?  Anti-gravity will mean we'll never have to lift anything heavier than a finger ever again.  And then soon we won't be able to at all.  Communication by thought will destroy the art of conversation.  Robot cars will mean nobody can take the wheel when the machines go bad.  And so on...

But I know what you're thinking; can I cast any positives into this gloom?  Well, how about cryo-technology?  Because somewhere out there in this deskilled future may lie the last analogue native, deep frozen, probably thawing automatically, ready to explain to mankind what happens when nothing happens when you press a button.

Assuming somebody has the skills to revive him, that is...

No comments:

Post a Comment