Is technology freeing us or restricting us – part 3)

For the last two weeks I’ve had a bit of a rant about how technology, rather than saving me time, is actually wasting my time.  So for this final (I promise) blog on the subject I think I should redress the balance.  So I started by reminding myself just how mind bogglingly far it has come in so short a time.vic20

Now the first contact I had with a computer (other than fictional HAL – ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’) was at Newcastle University, 30, blah, blah (OK getting on for 40), years ago.  We had limited access to the uni’s mainframe, supposedly to run stats etc.  Although most of us were, you’ve guessed it, playing games even then.  There was the simple ‘moonlander’, you’re descending on to the moon and you have to burn fuel to land safely.  No graphics of course, just typing in your command and getting an answer, the ending: survive or crash (sounds riveting doesn’t it?).  There was a much more complex ‘Star Trek’ program where you ended up fighting a number of Klingon ships.  Again, all by typing in your instructions and then getting a printout of their position, damage etc.  The ship even ‘talked’ to you.  After a few hours you ended up with a small rainforest of paper.  It was very sophisticated for its time and we were told, it was the Phd of some brilliant student.  About a year or so later the first ‘Space Invader’ games were appearing in pubs, closely followed by asteroids and others.  In my last year the students union acquired the simplest of car racing games (believe me it was so graphically basic, four blobs racing round a track).  It was also where, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I met Rowan Atkinson (another story).

Then move on a few years to the early eighties and the first home computers, in my case a VIC 20, anyone remember these? (see picture above).  There were some acceptable games and lots of rubbish written in ‘basic’ language.  Rumour had it that the Sinclair ZX had 1,000 times more computing power than the Apollo that landed on the moon.

Move on another 10 years or so and it’s laptops at work, (B/W at first then a few years later colour), e-mail and the start of everything we now take for granted.  OK, downloading e-mail away from the office via the phone line took forever and clocked up a large bill, but it could be done.  In the last 10 years it’s all been about broadband, speed, and for me that anything I want, or want to research is out there at the click of a mouse (alright a few clicks).  It took aircraft a hundred years, four generations, to move from the first flight to where we are now, with everyone flying off everywhere (and I think that’s pretty phenomenal).  All the above has been achieved in about a single generation.

computersSo, although I talk about the time I waste I do admit, mostly (notice the caveat) it is my fault.  I do have control over that.  And the bottom line is, I couldn’t live my current life without it.  Writing would be much more difficult (what no track changes??).  If I did complete a novel I would be at the complete mercy of agents and publishers, unless I risked all with vanity press.  My new career depends on e-publishing.  I couldn’t reach out to others with this blog.  I couldn’t track other writers by twitter or facebook.  Yes, I moan, as I suspect we all do, and it is still far from perfect (who thought Windows 8 was a good idea?).  But when I stop to think about it, it is still incredible and fantastic to someone like me who spent my formative years with three TV channels, communicating by phone or post, where gaming meant shaking a dice and moving pieces round a board, where researching anything meant a trip to the library.

I wonder what we’ll see in the next ten years.  Hopefully I’ll still be blogging (and moaning) about it, while enjoying everything it has to offer.

As always views, and in this case reminiscences welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: