I was eating dinner with friends recently (Well, I eat dinner daily, but it’s just this one specific occasion I’m talking about) and talk turned to the past. Nothing encourages nostalgia like getting older. Anyway, we were chatting about the resurgence of vinyl, once long-dead and now resurgent. Like a plastic zombie. We agreed this is not just about nostalgia, but about being human – the tactility, the pleasing size and shape, the analogue warmth to the sound; all work with the senses.
But vinyl is also illogical. MP3 is logical. MP3 is non-physical, our hard disks voluminous, the choice seemingly infinite. MP3 won’t scratch or skip. It can’t degrade.
Vinyl had its day, so what business does it have making a comeback? Probably none. It’ll probably survive as a fad for a year or three or five more, but it will never again reign supreme. Because it is impractical. It’s tactility, size, shape, noise and fragility are no longer optimum.
Do you ever see someone – this might get kinda weird, but stick with me – who just looks healthy? Let’s say a guy: he’s forty-ish, but looks younger, he’s tall and fit, has great teeth, clearly never bit his fingernails, and the total bastard still has a very full and lustrous head of hair. When you see him, you think: “If this were olden times, when men were men and there were wolves and dinosaurs and caves and stuff, he’d survive. He’d be a leader.”
Then thought inevitably turns back to yourself and an inescapable image of Fred Flinstone pops into your head.
Well guess what? This is 2017 and desk jockeys rule the world! So **** that guy! MS Office doesn’t care if you have great hair (I repeat this to myself daily, while looking in the mirror and sobbing).
My phone is my club! My £3 meal deal is my dinosaur steak! My computer is my…club…again.
But, I have a poor memory. I have a body that requires movement to function properly. I need to use my hands to access the information that my brain requires.
I am not optimal.
Remember that bit in Terminator where we switch to the robot’s point of view and see the readouts he receives to assess the situation he’s in?
That’s pretty optimal.
I don’t know how I feel about this, but we know the future integration of body and technology will come. My first reaction is to be repulsed, to resist, but I know society will bend to progress. I loathed giving up tapes for CDs, but the world changed and took me with it. Same with the switch from CD to digital.
But where will progress stop… progressing? Is now the time we put our foot down and say NO! Because if we become the tools, instead of just using them, at what point will we no longer be in control? Will we rush past the point of no-return at such a pace that we can’t stop in time? Do we need to constantly develop to enjoy life; or to enjoy life to develop? In other words, how optimal is too optimal?
I’m reminded of the old joke that sounds like a true story but you just know you’ll be disappointed if you actually google it:
During the Space Race, the Americans spent a fortune developing a type of ink pen that could write in zero gravity, when wet, when dry, when very hot, when very cold, and upside down.
The Russians used a pencil.
Maybe we are optimal. Maybe our phones are THE PINNACLE. All the world’s data at your fingertips. Maybe our phones are the new pencil. Maybe to push further is the evolutionary equivalent of spending millions on magic ink.
Or maybe not.