2020 minus 73: Free speech? Well, an almost free speaker…

Posted: 20 October 2019 in 2020 minus, tech, television
Tags: , , , ,

The great science educator and pundit James Burke repeatedly makes the point – and I’ve quoted it enough that I guess it’s fair to say that I similarly repeatedly make the point – that what buggers us up as a species, time after time, isn’t tech going wrong, but two similar, but separate, issues:

1/ When tech we rely on, have come to rely on, almost as an article of faith, stops working, The assumption that it will always work, that it will never ‘break’, is what screws us over every bloody time.

And its easy to make that assumption, easy to view something that we’d have regarded as magical only a few years earlier, as something that just… is.

I never had the first Apple iPhone. A couple of friends did, but I was quite happy with my Samsung slide phone, or my Motorola Razr, or whatever I had back then… plus an Apple iPod, which again, I’d not intended to get until a friend intervened.

I’ve never been a ‘must have dozens of albums, hundreds of songs, instantly available’ kind of fella.. Some music, sure, and the radio, definitely. But hundreds of songs? no.

A friend, however, sold me on the idea of the iPod nano, the anodised metal one, with the simple comment:

Don’t think of it as, say, 1,000 songs; think of it as 4,000 minutes of sound.

And that was all it took. Because, of course, what Al meant was:

You can transfer loads of comedy recordings you have: you can have loads of Yes, Minister, loads of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, loads of The Goon Show.

I’s genuinely not thought of it like that until that point… but as so often when it comes to tech, a single thought, a single idea, a single application of that idea, changes the world. Or at least, can change your, or my, world.

So I got one, and never looked back. So, who needed an iPhone? Not me. I had a phone, I rarely played games, I had an iPod; I even had a pretty good financial calculator, since I was an accountant back then.

And then they released the second iPhone, in 2008, the iPhone 3G.

And I got one. And instantly, it became how things should be; I’m shocked at how fast, looking back, I got used to it, how slow other devices seemed. And, when it stopped working for any reason, how furious I was to have to rely on something that months earlier I similarly regarded as the norm. The paradigm shifted. And it continued to shift. Again and again.

I now have an iPhone XR, and a 2016 iPad Pro 9.7. With each new device, I became used to the increased speed, the increased facilities, the increased functionality scarily fast… and always regarded having to use a lesser device or a workaround as an enormous inconvenience.

We do that, a lot.

The comedian Chris Addison used to do a bit about broadband at home. It’s a genuine miracle of modern life, he’d say.

With it, you have the whole world at your fingers. You can see webcams in China, have access to the best dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and an watch video of pretty much whatever you want to. Again, a genuine miracle of the modern age.



…if your broadband goes down, if it stops working, it takes about 30 seconds for ‘the internet’ to go from ‘a miracle of the modern age’ to ‘a basic human right’.

He’s right. I mean, he shouldn’t be; we should be better than that. But we’re not.

The other thing Burke – yeah, back to James Burke – identifies as something that we do that perhaps we shouldn’t is…

2/ the assumption that when something breaks, something we rely on almost as an article of faith, that it’ll be fixed in due course so no need to seriously worry.

The example he offers as the archetype of this is the 1965 Power outage that hit the East Coast of the United States. Not only were the effects exaggerated because people had become so used to it that there weren’t available, sensible, workarounds, but also, the possibility that it couldn’t be fixed was literally inconceivable to most people.

The closest public one I’ve probably come to it was the 7/7 terrorist attacks in 2005. One of the lesser consequences, on a macro level, was the unavailability of tube services to get to work for some weeks.

It genuinely never occurred to me, though, that the tube wouldn’t be back in action ‘soon’.

Maybe it should have. Maybe it wouldn’t do any harm for us, for me, to every so often wonder what we’d do if tech, if stuff we rely on so much that we don’t think about it… stopped.

Why yes, I have been dealing with tech that’s not working as it should, and it’s both pissing me off, and hugely inconveniencing me.

Why do you ask?

Well, maybe ‘hugely’ is pushing it a bit But it was inconveniencing me.

The problem I had was deciding whether a bit of tech that I used every day, or to be precise, every night, needs to, in fact, be replaced.

Oh it was broken. That’s not in question. After years of faithful service, a bit snapped off a few nights ago which rendered the kit entirely useless’ reduced its purpose, in fact, to precisely one: an oddly shaped paperweight.

As long bank as I can recall, as a single fella, both before and after I was married, I’ve gone to sleep listening to audio.

I’d say listening to sounds, but that’s unfair on the natural world. I now live on a main road in London, and so the sounds that would naturally accompany me to my slumber would typically be: busses stopping outside the flat, cars zooming past, and drunken students on their way home.

But, back in the days when iPhone speakers were teeny, tiny, tinny, little things, I picked up a decent little speaker/dock for my iphone, and headed off to sleep listening to an audiobook, or some music, or the radio.

And I’ve done so pretty much every night since.

(Why yes, I am single, why do you ask?)

And the connector on my speaker/dock snapped off the other night. And the item is so old that, to be honest, you can’t even get a like-for-like replacement these days. (Or so I thought.)

Most of the replacements are wireless chargers and/or bluetooth speakers. And I want neither of them, even if they weren’t horrendously expensive; expensive for me, anyway.

And let’s face it, the iPhone now has pretty decent speakers, certainly, they should be enough for my purposes.

So I tried the last few nights without it… and it’s… ok, I guess. But it hasn’t the… ‘warmth’ of the sound that came through the surprisingly decent speaker on the kit, and I can’t just look up, tap and see the time on my vertical phone, what with the phone being horizontal.

I can’t complain; the kit lasted me for years, probably half a dozen or so.

Ah, the little things we rely on that completely, entirely out of proportion, bug the hell out of us when they just stop working.

All of which leads up to the inevitable, I suppose. I found a replacement, the exact same piece of kit, in fact, on Computer Exchange’s website.

I have no idea what I paid for the kit originally. £15, I’d guess. Maybe £19.99.

I picked a replacement speaker/dock up for £6.00

It arrived yesterday; and last night, for the first time in a week, I went to bed with the warm sounds of, funnily enough, James Burke’s Connections audiobook in my ears.

Hope you all slept equally well.

And since you’ve been so good at reading all of the above, here’s James Burke with possibly the best single setup and resolution ever broadcast on television, from the tv version of Connections:

Something else tomorrow…

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