Technology Retreats

Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi/drama ‘Her’ is quite memorable. It won the director an Oscar for best original screenplay, and received four other nominations including for best picture. The plot involves the central character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falling in love with his computer’s new, artificially intelligent operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. There are numerous twists and turns that I won’t go into as I don’t want to spoil the experience if you haven’t yet seen it. I highly recommend that you do.

One of the things I found most interesting about the film is its vision of how technology has evolved. It’s the near future in California, and some of the technologies on view already exist today in a more primitive form. Theodore, our hero, has a personal computer, sure, but it has no keyboard: everything is voice-activated. Lights go on and off automatically as he moves around his home. He plays video games that are console-free and fill the room with larger-than-life holograms.

In 2018 we possess cordless ear buds, but in ‘Her’ everyone wears just one that connects them instantly to the digital world.  There’s no fumbling around for signals orWi-Fi connections. Technology, essentially, has just gotten out of the way.

With no item of hardware is this more apparent than the mobile phone. Theodore’s looks more like a photo frame and is quite chunky compared with today’s ever-slimming smartphones. He rarely needs to hold it and when he does there’s no dazzling array of apps to bewilder him. The phone just does its (stripped down) job quietly and unobtrusively. It’s as if there’s been a backlash. Just as nowadays many of us seek out the pleasure of listening to a good old-fashioned vinyl LP maybe in a few decades our descendants will revert to using their cellphone simply as a telephone. Ok, and to text possibly.

Wait a minute though: did I say decades?

In this respect at least the future according to ‘Her’ is already here!

Light Phone 2

It’s been here for a while in fact. In January 2017, the Light Phone was launched which its inventors said was: “designed to be used as little as possible”. The size of a credit card, all it does is make and receive calls. Nothing else. It was intended as a second phone when you want a break from your regular one. However Light Phone 2, due out next year, will encourage users to ditch their smartphone altogether. It does have a few more features though, like the ability to text and an alarm clock.

There’s clearly a market for this kind of device. If you want a Light Phone, never mind a Light Phone 2, you have to join a waiting list. And there are a growing number of low-tech competitors entering the market.

Could we be experiencing smartphone fatigue? Sales in Europe during the first quarter of this year were down by almost 7% compared with 2017 with customers complaining that manufacturers appear to be innovating for the sake of innovation, introducing unnecessary features while increasing the prices of their handsets. One analyst has predicted that most mobile apps will disappear in the next three to seven years.

In a way it would be nice if ‘Her’s’ version of the future materialises. There are far fewer cars, for instance. But I for one am looking forward to unwrapping my feature-bloated, shiny new iPhone come Christmas Day!



Author: gibsteve

Broadcast journalist for 31 years 20 of them as news editor with GBC, the local radio and TV station in Gibraltar. Now retired and finding ways to keep busy.

One thought on “Technology Retreats”

  1. Hi Stephen,
    enjoying your blogs but must disagree on this last one. The smart phone to me is a blessing in many ways but particularly as a travelling business man.
    In the past when I travelled I need to use a payphone whenever I needed to call home, when mobile phones came out I started using them to avoid having to look for a pay phone. This cost a fortune but nowadays we can do it for free if we can get some wifi coverage somewhere, not hard really. As a music lover I also needed my Walkman and in later years my mp3 player. Having to drive to many new locations I also needed my GPS. I would also need to carry an alarm clock to wake me up to get to the airport for my 7am flight
    A smart phone does all this saving me having to carry 4 separate devices and chargers.
    But the smart phone does so much more. It gives me internet access, I can check around for hotels, restaurants, tube stations, bus stops or call a taxi because I can search for a taxi service’s telephone number on the internet. In fact I can then seamlessly press on the number given for me to put through my call.
    I can access my bank account on the go. I can even pay with my phone at certain locations. How handy is that?
    I don’t need to print off boarding passes for the aeroplane as it’s on the app for EasyJet, BA, Jet2 and Ryanair. In fact the app even tells me if the flight is on schedule and what gate to board at. I sometimes make a train journey and using the Trainline app I can see the schedule, platform for my trip, down load the ticket to my phone (no need to print another ticket!). All this sorted wherever I am at without a need to queue for a ticket.
    I use Tastecard to eat at many restaurants in UK at a heavily discounted rate, usually half price. The app can tell me the nearest restaurant or I can be more specific and select what type of cuisine I want and it will point me to the nearest Italian or Indian. If I don’t want to leave the hotel I can order online using Just Eat or Uber Eats. The app shows me all the menus for all participating takeaway restaurants near me, wherever me is at that moment.
    I don’t have to carry a book or two with me, I can read it on the phone as well! I can watch movies or just browse through all those lovely cat videos on the internet. Sure leafing through a paperback is a luxurious feeling but at least am saving the environment. Even the scraps of papers with notes are all on the Memo app on my phone. No need for a Filofax with all my contacts and calendar either. If I need to do some maths then I have a calculator on phone as well. I get breaking news from my BBC app, read lots of interesting articles using my Flipboard app as well as access all my emails and the ability to write documents using Word on my phone, I can access all my documents in cloud storage from my phone too! It’s also lovely to do video calls, how useful is it when the wife shows me via video call a problem she is encountering at home and I can actually see what it is and tell her what to do to fix it. Invaluable when she babysits my fish tank 🙂

    I don’t actually need my laptop but I do prefer to touch type and love a big screen. Nor do I need to take my stills camera or video camera. A high end smart phone has systems that put cameras of a couple of years to shame. Last but not least the humble torch. Useful for finding your way in the dark.

    Even when not at home the smart phone is sooooo useful. I manage without it but it would be so difficult and inconvenient.

    I could accuse you of being a Luddite but perhaps we are wired to work differently. I would prefer to be wired to work at times, the sci fi future of implants that augment your brains abilities or connect you to some form of internet has a certain appeal. Perhaps we have very different relationships with our technology. I employ it to make my life easier and less stressful by mastering it but am conscious that for some others technology becomes their master.

    Looking forward to your next contribution

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