Now, I’m not in any way ashamed to admit that one of my favourite online newspapers is the Times. Yes, I read others, comparing details and noting bias, but I find this site nice and accessible, easy to navigate with a fairly decent standard of reporting. But recently I’ve noticed a trend that… well, it doesn’t exactly worry me. It amuses me, more than anything.
To cut to the chase, I’ve started to notice that the quality of articles presented by their various columnists are becoming increasingly superficial, badly written and, yes, in certain circumstances utterly pointless.
So I wasn’t surprised when I read this piece by one-time editor Simon Jenkins.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t see his point. His stance seemed to be, almost, one of either/or — technology versus “real life”. It is a naive and, frankly, badly informed point of view that seems to miss entirely that whilst people do (obviously) enjoy real-life interaction, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t an equally valid demand for technology that enables them to bridge massive distances and interact with people they wouldn’t otherwise have met. Technology is a part of the real-life of which he speaks, to the point where many of us no longer make such pointless distinctions. A number of his readers seem to agree with him (you’ll notice that I didn’t!), completely missing the point that they were sitting before their computers and replying to his article in a form more immediate than most of us would have at one time dreamed possible. They also, as he did, seemed to miss the fact that the article appears on an Internet website.
At the beginning of the article he states:
“Last week hundreds of young people queued overnight to watch Andrew Murray play a game of tennis. Tickets were reportedly changing hands for £2,000. Yet the game could be watched on any television or computer screen, in the comfort of home, pub or work-place.”
There are a couple of obvious points here. One of his main arguments seems to be that “live” is where the money is, these days. He even, rather oddly, uses reality TV as a proof for this. So, let’s look at one point at a time.
Firstly, hundreds of young people were paying (or their rich parents were, at least) up to £2,000 for Wimbledon tickets. Pretty impressive, right? Wrong. What he doesn’t mention is that in excess of twelve million people watched the match live on television (in the UK alone), with more watching over the Internet, listening to the radio etc. So where is the money? Bearing in mind that every one of those 12 million people (this is just the UK viewers, don’t forget), would need television sets, a digital decoder of some kind, and were probably chatting with their mates on their phones whilst they watched — if you wanted to make real money, long-term, which would you rather invest in? The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association, or technology firms? I know where I’d put my money (if I had any!)
The second point is, of course, that not everyone can attend live events — either because they find it too expensive, too far from where they live or simply because old age or disability makes it difficult for them to attend. This is where, in my opinion, technology comes into its own. It is becoming increasingly egalitarian. Without it, frankly, I would not be able to write the novels I write today. The availability of information, the constant reduction in the price of technology (which companies can do whilst still making a profit because so many units are being turned over), all this and more means that I can more easily do the things I need and want to do. It has not replaced any aspect of my life. Technology has never set out to do that. It merely enhances the lives we already lead.
His final paragraph is so banal I was tempted to write to the Queen to ask her to withdraw his knighthood.
“The money is now being made in supplying a public craving not for technology but for human experience. It lies in flesh and blood. Live is live.”
Human experience? We are making money not from technology, but from human experience? Is there a difference? I’d argue that there isn’t. Technology is becoming so enmeshed with our everyday experience (our everyday human experience) that people like Simon Jenkins just don’t see it. How does he think these live events of which he speaks are organised? What of the amazing light shows that take place at these “live” concerts? Are they achieved by lining up hundreds of people, handing them torches of different colours and instructing them “to wave them about a bit”? No. The complex logistics of putting on such shows and events require masses of technology.
His argument is tantamount to a straw man. Call me stupid (that’s rhetorical, incidentally!), but I consider writing this piece using my nifty voice recognition software on my wonderful Acer laptop, as much a flesh and blood experience as heading out onto the moors and breathing in lots of lovely fresh air. Each has its place. There is no battle, financial or philosophical, except in the minds of those unable to see what is right before their eyes:
A computer screen. Just one element of human experience — and one that many of us can profit by, in many, many ways.