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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam