Technology is incredible. I know this to be true because technology companies keep on telling me this. And they wouldn’t lie about stuff like that. I mean, what would be in it for them?
Walk down any street, open any magazine, watch anything on TV and before very long you’ll be beguiled by some carefully worded, beautifully photographed, digitally optimized, piece of communication that reassures you that the future is here and, guess what, it’s fabulous.
Now this has been going on for quite some time. So surely, by now, we should all be deliriously happy and living in a wonderful world?
But we’re not. I haven’t taken any representative poll on this, but to my sensibilities it appears that we have about the same level of happiness as we did before the boom in consumer technology, it’s just that we have a lot more gadgets.
And we have a lot more leads and chargers. What’s more, and it may just be me here, we even have quite a few leads and chargers for gadgets we no longer own.
Which isn’t to say that individual pieces of technology can’t make us happy. It’s just that the cumulative effect of all the bits of technology we possess doesn’t seem to have increased our overall level of happiness.
Maybe it’s because within any new bit of technology there are not only new possibilities, but also potential new problems.
For example, we had a high tech central heating boiler installed. Apparently its control panel has more computing power that the Apollo lunar module that landed on the moon. Which was great. Until it went wrong.
The engineer who came to fix it explained that when these marvels do go wrong they’re hard to repair because they’re so complex. And fixing it wasn’t a matter of getting out a bag of tools, it was one of getting out a laptop, getting online, then calling up the manufacturer to talk through a diagnosis.
The diagnosis, when it came, boiled down (as it were) to the manufacturer agreeing that something had, indeed, gone wrong. And while it could be any one of several problems, there was no way of telling which, so the best thing to do would be to either replace all the possible problem parts in one go, or to keep coming back to replace each in turn until the problem was solved.
At which point the engineer made the not unreasonable point that boilers were easier to fix when they didn’t have computers in them.
The principle being illustrated here is quite obvious. The more complex a thing becomes, the more marvelous are the things that it can do, but the more of a bugger it is to fix when it goes wrong.
And that, when you come to think about it, may be the problem with us human beings. Somewhere along the evolutionary cycle-path we just became way too complex. Had we settled for the level of consciousness and self-awareness of the chimpanzee wouldn’t we all be a lot happier?
As far as I’m aware the average chimpanzee’s existential angst extends no further than the next banana, some branches to shelter under, and the odd bit of mutual grooming. I sincerely doubt that any chimpanzee has ever lain awake at night worrying about the state of the economy, or whether it’s too late to start a pension, or whether their very existence is a meaningless farrago of missed opportunities, frustrated expectations and self-deluding relationships.
Admittedly no chimpanzee has created anything as wonderful as a Beethoven symphony, a Van Gogh painting, or a bacon sandwich on crusty white bread, but, let’s be honest here, they do seem to have a lot of fun.
All of which leads to the very sensible conclusion that we should all try and lead much simpler lives. Lives less cluttered up by gadgets, or worries.
And never, ever, install a central heating boiler in your home that’s cleverer than you are.