Keith Harrison: Left to our own devices, we could probably work it out

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Some years ago, I worked with a dotty old geek who used to bore me rigid with all sorts of Tomorrow's World nonsense about gadgets in the future.

"There'll come a time," he said very seriously, "When all you have to do is think of a song and it will play in your head."

"Hang on a minute," I replied, "That happens to me already."

And thus, for the first and only instance, I was ahead of my time.

True, I don't get the album cover projected on to my eyelids, but if I think hard enough about it, I can actually recall what Sgt Pepper's looks like.

Now, I don't want to sound like a Philistine here – especially being a key component in this multi-media, multi-platform, multi coloured swap shop of news you're reading – but the current pace of technological change is starting to leave me cold.

And, even worse, it's making me feel old.

Yes, I was impressed when I first got an iPod Shuffle a few years back and realised you could bang a whacking 120 songs (120!!!) on to something smaller than the TV remote with no moving parts.


In the words of Kate Bush . . . wow. Unbelievable.

Fast forward 10 years and 120 songs will fit on the second hand of a digital watch that probably has more computer power than it took to put a man on the moon (allegedly).

It can be your TV, your video recorder, your entire record collection, your alarm clock, your radio, your camera, your video camera, your torch, your radio, your map book, your entire book collection, your photo album, your letter box, your postbox, your notebook, your calculator, your bank . . . and even a phone.

And that's just on the home screen.


But there's a downside to it all. The death of the 'mix tape' for a start.

Have you ever tried to woo a girl by sending her a 'recommended playlist' that she has to download on her computer for £15.99?

Trust me, it takes all the romance out of it.

Either that or young ladies aren't as impressed with the complete works of the Dead Kennedys as they used to be.

Then there's the dreaded 'updates'.

Once upon a time, you bought a piece of technology and it worked. The end.

Your VHS, Betamax or, hell yes, Philips Video 2000 is probably still working today if it's plugged into the right telly. So why is it that despite the march of technology, we can't expect the same from today's gadgets?

Already, some so-called 'Smart' TVs are defunct (ie not working properly) the minute you get them out of the box.

The 'apps' they rely on have been pulled or are outdated before you've even plugged it in.

The reason for this is that manufacturers have realised they can now reach inside our homes and force us to keep buying new products whether we want to or not.

As with many things, the evil of the internet is to blame.

Via online connections, the makers never really let go of our TVs, lap-tops or mobile phones.

They can access them at any point with 'updates' which will do many things, all worthy of a plain English translation. For example, 'We are improving your security' means 'All that information we've been storing about you without your knowledge because we buried it in the terms and conditions? Yeah, we think we've lost it.'

'We've improved our interface' normally means you no longer recognise anything on this phone, how to use it or where your pictures have gone. 'Functionality has been upgraded'. We'll be the judge of that – and, no, it hasn't.

This week, I plugged my iPhone into my laptop as I have done hundreds of time before only to discover that it will no longer transfer pictures between the two after another 'user friendly' update. The only way to resolve the issue was – surprise, surprise – buy some new software.

But mainly, they will encourage you to go and buy something new – and the process starts all over again.

Maybe it's just me, but as soon as I get used to how something looks and works they have to go and change it.

And even if they don't, then I'll probably end up dropping it anyway.

I'm not sure 'digital blackmail' was on the instruction manual but here's an update for the powers that be . . .

Thanks for your constant interference, but chances are we can figure this out ourselves.

And left to our own devices, we probably would.

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