Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tech-savvy allure

It's so easy to fall for it. The idea that you too could indulge in some of the glamour of Fusion Man if only one were to buy, say, a 3G 16GB iPhone. Last Friday at the London Liverpool Street Station Carphone Warehouse (about 6pm) a slightly inebriated city-type was in asking for just such a phone - in white. He assured the staff that their website vouchsafed that such an instrument was presently on-sale at their shop. The staff assured him that the website lied: an unusual case of 'the computer says "yes"'.

I, myself, had seen this same in-stock assurance earlier that day. But unlike the happy hour imbiber, I was not lurking in the small kiosk-sized shop for an actual purchase, just a torment visit (where I go to wallow in my desire for the purchase knowing full well that I won't make it for a variety of reasons). The man again averred that the website had said such an item was available only to be reassured that it was not and that the website was 'lying'. Such a sweet idea, that the staff had been shortchanged by some kind of overly enthusiastic war-games styled computer (maybe like the anthropomorphised one in Electric Dreams - remember that silly little film?), rather than left short by a fault in the supply chain - i.e., human error.

And such is the chink in the dream of the glossy 'future': we may be able to invent the tools and put them to use, but it's still we - human beings - who are using them. The future is only as slick as the fallible homo sapiens. The allure of going tech-savvy: striving to be a hub, an alpha user; to get abreast and keep abreast of developments is all well and good but to what effect? Unless one is prepared to adjust, fundamentally, one's habits and routines at a 'deep' level, it is unlikely that a new gadget will utterly transforms one's life (i.e., a schlub is not going to be magically streamlined with the addition of just a bit of kit; the iPhone is not the philosopher's stone).

My friend Jamie - amidst the first wave of my 3G iPhone release mania (earlier this year) - made a sagacious suggestion. Rather than rush to buy an ultraportable laptop and a smartphone, why not just make better use of my current mobile and laptop (buying only a mobile broadband stick at most - a dongle Jamie called it; you can see that I've not bought even one of these yet!). Then if I indeed prove a Charlotte Higgins, Jr, then invest in some new, lovely kit (otherwise, it's just a kind of Glamour-magazine type lust for the new 'it-IT' rather than really needing the new equipment).

Of course, he's absolutely right. As is my husband who kindly pointed out that signing up for any kind of new monthly contract (given that we are planning to move from UK to USA shortly) isn't fiscally responsible. I know, I know - none of it makes much sense, rationally speaking that is. But the sense of desire is irrational, emotional, prone to suggestibility and temptation. It can be preyed upon and whipped up; it can become obsessive and a driving force. I know all of this rationally. I am aware of the consumerist impulse which has been cultivated by my American upbringing and which I have indulged expertly for three decades. And yet I am still eaten up by it when a shiny bit of metal / plastic is flashed before my eyes. There's a potent part of my imagination that turns its back on all dystopic Blade Runner prognostications and still knows I'm only one bit of kit away from that future we were promised (FusionWoman?).

August Jetson Davis