Letter from Simon Kelner: This techno life we take for granted


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The Independent Online

I am indebted to my friend Sarah Ellison, a writer on Vanity Fair magazine, for leading me to discover an American comedian called Louis CK. In a tweet, she pointed her followers in the direction of a YouTube clip of Louis (real surname: Szekely) on the Conan O'Brien chat show in which he expounds on a subject that came up in this column a few weeks ago.

The title of the clip is "everything's amazing, and nobody's happy", which is the Louis CK way of explaining a phenomenon that I believe is prevalent throughout the developed world: namely, that we take for granted many of the improvements in our daily lives, and our unreasonable expectations are making us unhappy.

He makes the point that people complain about their plane being delayed for 40 minutes without stopping to consider the modern miracle of air flight. "You are sitting in a chair in the sky!" he exhorts. Louis then says that he was sitting next to someone on a plane who complained that the high-speed, in-flight internet connection wasn't working. "How quickly the world owes him something he didn't know existed 10 seconds earlier," said Louis, memorably.

I fall into a similar trap when my Sky+ box doesn't work. I rage about the malfunctioning technology without pausing to remember what it used to be like. You could watch a video, but you couldn't record a programme at the same time. Now, you can pause a live programme, record things at the same time, watch almost anything at any time, and never see an advert for the rest of your life.

And, in the week the latest iPhone is launched, it is worth questioning whether all that phone rage we have over a lack of signal, or a dead battery, would be alleviated if we stopped to consider how far we have come – and so quickly – in terms of mobile communications. Some people will tell you the world functioned perfectly well before mobiles; well, we seemed to manage before the wheel was invented, too. We make calls on the move from continent to continent without thinking, and complain if the line's bad. And now the new iPhone has a feature called "voice assistant" to whom you can speak. You can use this function to dictate emails, or to ask questions about, for instance, the weather, the prices of stocks or the football scores. Truly amazing.

But someone somewhere will soon be complaining bitterly because it's not working, and they have to wait, oh, all of a minute, to find out the England rugby result. (Two arrests, and three sent home if you're interested.)