I’d be the first to admit that I am not one of nature’s techno geeks, but my heart leapt at the text I received from Vodafone two weeks ago. “Since your contract is up for renewal,” it read, “would you like to preorder an iPhone 6?”
It took me a few minutes to consider. Would I like to strut around town with the world’s most sophisticated mini-computer in my breast pocket – brandishing it proudly, on the slightest pretext, in front of my children and their iPhone-savvy but impressionable young friends; ostentatiously prodding it on the Hammersmith and City Line to astound hi-tech tourists from Taiwan and Dubai with my head-spinning bang-up-to-date-ness; emailing friends in newspaper offices with footling bits of information, just so that I could sign off with the words: “Sent from my iPhone 6, that’s the incredibly flash new one, by the way, with all the, y’know, extra bits that no phone or computer in the world has ever had before. That phone.”
I rushed to the Vodafone shop. A chap called Feysel took my details. “You could pick up the phone on Friday, launch day,” he said, “but it’ll be a scrum in here all day. You want the 6, or the 6 Plus?” What was the difference? “The 6 is long,” he said, “but the 6 Plus is even longer.” I was mystified. Weren’t mobile phones supposed to get smaller? Why had Apple designed a bigger and an even bigger one? Feysel shrugged. “It’s what people asked for,” he said.
The iPhone 6 came in the post. Given the hype, I was surprised it didn’t arrive on a scarlet cushion in a gold coach surrounded by half-naked Nubians running alongside, bearing flaming torches. My fingers trembled as I took it out of the white box. It was lovely: long, thin, streamlined, the icons big and friendly, the visual equivalent of a packet of Dolly Mixtures. Unfortunately, Feysel hadn’t mentioned that the sim card from my old iPhone 4 wouldn’t fit the iPhone 6, but just one more trudge back to the Vodafone shop fixed that.
“Now,” I said, “this is crucial. Is there an instruction manual that explains how you operate it?” Feysel regarded me with pity. “All the information is online,” he said. “It’s really simple. You don’t need a manual.”
Oh, but Feysel and ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I absolutely, desperately do need a manual to tell me how an iPhone works. I’ve put in the hours. I’ve struggled so long with online information that tells you nothing that I’m exhausted. I’ve spent five years pretending that soon, very soon, I’ll become fully briefed about everything the system can offer: downloads, apps, movies, games, Tinder, iBooks, Pornhub, iGarage, cheap-taxi-summoning facilities, all the shimmering panoply of digi-toys and electro-connectibles will be mine for the asking. I tell myself, it’ll be simple: I just need the instruction manual.
The new iPhone 6 in pictures: smooth edges and more screen to love
Or, failing that, a daughter. Sons are no use at explaining how mobiles work. They torment you by making some unguessed-at wizardry appear on your screen (a live stream from Mars, Ten Absinthe Bars within a Mile of Your Home) but never show how they did it; they just walk away laughing and making “Loser” signs. Daughters are more helpful. Recently I had to drive to Portsmouth, holding an address but no map of the town. How could I find my destination? “Don’t worry,” said the daughter. “There’s a sat-nav on my phone.” It worked, and got us there.
This morning I was wakened by a ping from the iPhone 6. “Tips,” it said sternly. “Make more use of your iPhone 6. Go to Tips to find out more about System iOS 8.” I have seldom been addressed by an electronic device as if I were a dim and inattentive schoolboy but, naturally, I did what I was told. Under “Tips” I learned several exciting new things: that I could insist on a response to an email by tapping “Notify Me” and having the words come up on my friend’s phone (doesn’t that sound a little brusque?), or that I could share an app with family members by going to iCloud (no thanks). Of the whereabouts of an actual instruction manual, there was, as usual, silence.
But wait! A website called Gottabemobile.com revealed that there’s a 180-page iPhone 6 “User Guide” manual already in your phone, that any fool can download. Hooray! Why did nobody mention this before? All I need do is “Open the PDF in your Safari browser”. Unfortunately, my Safari browser is currently filled with an article on finance from the Irish Times that I don’t remember Googling, and I cannot find any way to remove it – or indeed any way to open a PDF of the User Guide there instead, were I able to discover where the PDF is to be found.
So here I sit, stranded, with all the technology of the world at my fingertips, but unable to open the giant electronic book which will unlock the contents. And this is in the same week that I listened to a Radio 4 programme about the future of mankind and technology. It concerned “Singularity” – meaning that moment in the future when artificial intelligence outstrips human intellectual capacity, and civilisation becomes changed for ever. A chilling thought, it was proposed by Stanislaw Ulam, one of the originators of the atomic bomb, who once described “[the] ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race, beyond which human affairs, as we know them, cannot continue”.
Scientists suggest the likely date for this “singularity” to be around 2045. I think it’s stealing over us already. It’s what happens when we build super-computers and super-iPhones without any instructions about how their human users might operate them, unless the computer or the iPhone in question deigns to let the humans in on the secret.Reuse content