Sunday, 7 June 2015

Smart technology, stupid people

There's a worrying trend amongst the younger generations to feel like there's no point in learning things from school or by reading books - if there's something they want to know they'll just Google it.
In a way they have a point. These days if there's something you need to know, all you have to do is pick up your laptop or even your phone, and you have a world of information at your fingertips. Whether you want to resolve an argument over which girl first played Becky in 'Roseanne', buy an obscure CD (because there are no decent record shops left on the high street), or learn how to build a jet engine from bits of junk in your shed, the internet has all the answers. Not necessarily the correct answers of course, but answers none the less.
I'm not putting technology down - far from it. Technology has given us MRI scanners, microwave ovens, satellite navigation, global communication, and the ability to indulge in a little porn without having to drive to an overnight petrol station miles from home where nobody knows you just to pick up a new 'jazz' mag.
On the other hand, many people become reliant on these things. Most of us are guilty of no longer remembering people's phone numbers, because we're so used to phones with contact lists - so much easier to select the name and press 'dial'.
It could be said that all these 'driving aids' in new cars is actually detrimental to some people's standard of driving. So many are relying on traction control, stability control and suchlike to electronically limit their inputs, that if you were to take them out of their four-wheeled Playstation and stick them behind the wheel of something like a TVR Cerbera, they'd be hurtling through the trees towards the next life in a ball of fire because they'd lost touch with the laws of physics.

It's also worrying from an engineer's perspective that the ability to manufacture things from scratch is becoming increasingly rare. Look around the average workshop and you'll find it mostly populated by blokes who are thinking seriously about where they're going to move to when they retire and are more likely to have a pin-up of Vivien Leigh on the back of their bench than a picture of Mila Kunis.
 The practical skills are increasingly being lost to a generation whos idea of making something involves drawing it up in SolidWorks before sending it to a 3d printer. Not that 3d printing is a bad thing - it's enabling us to make things previously either very tricky or downright impossible with traditional methods - but when the whole thing goes tits-up you still need someone who can pick up some hand tools and a piece of stock material and make it happen. Most PHD students are fantastic at designing some wonderful component for an experiment using CAD software, but you wouldn't dare let them loose in the workshop because they can't tell a lathe from a hammer. And they have the audacity to refer to themselves as engineers.......
To my mind technology is there to supplement the abilities I've built up, not to replace them. In a world where the simple act of writing and sending a letter is so alien to those whose communication skills are limited to Tweeting that they're in the pub, we have more and more people who're unable to think for themselves because they're so used to having some pocket-sized electronic gizmo to do it for them. Those who choose to take the alternate path of actually learning stuff and developing practical skills are often seen as weird or geeky - misfits to be ridiculed. If  someone decides to create welded steel wall art sculptures in their garage instead of watching X-Factor on the sofa while simultaneously slagging off the contestants with their peers on Facebook, then there must be something wrong with them.

I wish people would take their noses out of their smartphones for a while and look at the world around them; especially when they're walking blindly down the street oblivious to everyone around them. Learn how to find a book in a library before they all close. Be experimental in the kitchen with a pile of random ingredients without looking up a recipe on a cookery website.
Above all, I wish that technology was limited to that which is genuinely useful.
It used to be said that "necessity is the mother of invention". These days it seems that the mother of invention is little more than a commercial opportunity to sell a brainwashed population yet another useless device they never knew they needed.