Today the internet has been heaving with the news that mobile phones will soon be bendy, like a bit of old elastic you find behind the wardrobe. This will mean that we could, for example, wear them like a funky, time-wasting bracelet, or use them to prop up wobbly restaurant tables, or run around bending them around, laughing and crying at the fact that the technological might of our species – this awesome, collective, gargantuan knowledge amassed and perfected over the centuries – has finally allowed us to wrap a telephone around a stick.
I should, perhaps, apologise for my facetiousness, but I am fed up with the endless touting of ‘tweaks’ on existing items. My joy to see that Dyson has made a bladeless fan was tempered by the fact that flinging shit at it would now no longer have the desired effect. The unveiling of the iPhone 5 was marred slightly by the fact that they’d forgotten to make any changes to the iPhone 4 (or 3…etc). Everything’s being tweaked to death, and nothing new seems to be being invented anymore. I’m sure something must be being invented somewhere (they’ve got to get on with hoverboards and Jaws 19 for 2015, after all…), but we never seem to hear about it. We only become aware of these endless ‘improvements’, and it’s all about money, of course.
I’m no social philosopher, but sometimes I remember that civilisation is an unprecedented experiment, led by no-one, and with no real hypothesis. When in these moods, I contemplate the fact that we have absolutely no idea – no idea at all – what the outcome of all this technological tweakery is. We know why it’s happening: money. Profit drives the eternal tweaking of existing models, as it’s hugely cheaper than the development of an entirely new idea, and far safer too. But if that’s all that is driving it, then what will the eventual outcome be? If ‘progress’ is going to boil straight down to profit, is there any hope of a highly developed, highly successful, ‘Type III Civilisation’ being realised? Risk, inherent in any development of totally new technology, is very expensive and not particularly enjoyed by big business. As such, new things are less desirable, to business, than tweaked things. In short, I fear that we could end up coming to a halt, endlessly poking around with existing ideas, and never doing anything truly new.