Leading Article: The Queen is making a stand against her times

Share
Related Topics
So the Queen is not at ease with the idea of a nation "with its finger on the fast-forward button", in her Prime Minister's ghastly phrase. "I sometimes sense that the world is changing almost too fast for its inhabitants, at least for us older ones," she told the Pakistani parliament. It was meant as an aside, the closest one gets to a Royal Joke, and a self-deprecating one too. But it offered an elegiac insight into the conservative character of our monarch.

Hers is a popular sentiment - that the pace of technological change is growing ever faster. That there is no hope for us wrinklies when three-year-old Angelica can already programme the video and surf the Net.

But it was ever thus. Seventy-one-year-olds doubtless shook their heads when the pharaoh's engineer explained how to move five-ton blocks of stone up a pyramid. What's wrong with a simple cremation? they probably asked. They tut-tutted when the first motor cars spluttered onto the roads. Dangerous, noisy, impossible to drive. They regarded the telephone as a jangling invasion of privacy, and preferred speaking to an operator instead of using anything quite as complicated as a dial. Indeed, the Queen's grandmother Queen Mary, who died in 1953, refused to use one at all. Technophobia seems to run in the family. This was also the week when the Princess Royal issued a sombre warning against confusing computers with education. Part of the fun in the news that the royal family had set up its own web site on the Internet was its incongruity, set against the image of an old woman who still wears headscarves and for whom a keyboard probably means a piano.

But it is a mistake to think that, simply because someone is old enough for a free bus pass, they cannot operate a microwave or must feel disoriented by scientific progress. Some old people are enthused by change, while some young people cannot cope or stick wilfully to a mannered fogeyism. This is not a matter of years, but of an attitude of mind.

What the Queen was really saying yesterday is that she does not belong to the flexible side of the human race. She did not suddenly start to disapprove of change when she became a grandmother; unsurprisingly, she was ever thus.

But the important point is that she is on the wrong side of the divide. It is part of the urban mythology of modern life that technology advances by geometric progression, with ever shorter times between scientific breakthroughs with ever greater power to change our lives. It is central to visions of ecological catastrophe, a kind of modern-day green millennialism, that technology is spinning out of control.

Again, it was ever thus. There is a tendency in human nature to see scientific advance as a threat to civilisation as we know it. But there is a stronger tendency to find things out, try things out, and push at the limits of what can be done. We have no choice, of course, but it is right that the questing spirit should prevail.

At the simplest level, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is a misunderstanding. Much of the new technology is designed specifically to enable people to cope with change. If people cannot use mobile phones and computers, they will not sell. Nowadays, electronic gadgets come with thick instruction booklets which most people throw away because they are so easy to use.

But there is a more profound point. There is no doubt that the pace of change in our understanding of the physics of the universe, the technology of information and the science of life is accelerating. This should be liberating and exhilarating. But, as scientists break boundaries in their explorations of higher maths, mind-bending physics and genetics, they have streaked away into areas where most people cannot follow.

Perhaps there always was a knowledge elite, from the scribes of Ancient Egypt to the professors of genetic manipulation, capable of terrifying the rest of us with the fear of that which we can only dimly grasp. But now scientific breakthroughs are translated into the way we do business at astonishing speed, and there are new dangers in the disconnection between the knowledge elite and society generally.

This has been demonstrated by the public alarm over the cloning of sheep and the possible cloning of people. This newspaper has argued that these fears are misplaced, but scientists do need to develop their understanding of the ethical and social contexts in which they work.

The route to democratic understanding, however, lies mainly in a wider realisation that trying to find the answer to the next problem, or how to make use of the answer to the last one, is the only way to control technology. It is not a message we would expect the Queen to like, but standing still is never the right thing to do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Operative

£6 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a well e...

Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

£18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

A promised 'women's museum' opens as a Jack the Ripper exhibit tonight, and I won't take it lying down

Becky Warnock
A protester wears a golden mask and Romanian flag during a demonstration in Bucharest against Gabriel Resources Rosia Montana gold and silver project  

Corporate vampires have tried to suck $4 billion out of Romania, and with TTIP the UK could be next

Kevin Smith
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen