My guess would be, I’m about to fall out of love with technology.
As I sit here waiting for Windows to configure its updates, with the rain hammering on the plastic roof above me, wondering whether I have enough battery left to write this post, I don’t wonder what updates Windows could possibly need, so soon after the last lot.
They’re for my own good. I know that.
People younger than me will patronise me, just ever so slightly, as they explain that updates make my laptop more secure, improve its performance, et cetera, blah.
Yes. I’ve heard all that before.
But won’t you at least let me complain?
As for Artificial Intelligence – could somebody hurry up and invent Artificial Common Sense?
[Younger readers. The term “Common Sense” was widely used, a few generations back, to describe “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”. Thanks, internet. It has somewhat fallen out of use, not least because, er, the people who rant on about using common sense tend to be, ah, out of sync with the zeitgeist.]
What I think about as I sit here – just enough battery, I think – is my phone.
I think about the other day, and the app I was using to get from the place near York to the place near Edinburgh.
My phone – my app – knew the way, so I had it in my pocket with the earphones in. The youngish-sounding woman knew exactly where I was, and intervened every time I came anywhere near a junction.
She never actually said “Oh, well done, William!” or “You’re such a good driver!” but I could hear in her voice that she was impressed.
Our relationship lasted until she said “There’s congestion near Gateshead. If you don’t want to take my alternative route, hit no thanks.”
Hit no thanks? On my phone? While I’m driving? She must have known what speed I was doing.
Reader, we went via Gateshead. No congestion. No illegal fiddling with the phone either. I just went via Gateshead.
She still talks to me, but – it’s not the same.
Ed’s making tea. He has a fireplace right at the back of his cave – a recess with a naturally occurring chimney right above it – and he’s set up a big kettle on a hook above a log fire. There’s a stack of logs to one side; I guess they must have been hauled up the mountain by somebody.
“We’re civilised because we smile,” he says, continuing a conversation we started earlier. “Not education. Certainly not politics. We have civilisation because we have facial expressions.”
“You don’t think animals understand each other?”
“Of course they do. But the fine nuance of a facial expression enables a much wider range of interpretation. Understanding. Prompts more thought. Scope for empathy.”
“I like ‘fine nuance’. I’m going to use that in my blog.”
“You know what I mean. Facial expressions lead to a much deeper recognition of the other. Thus, civilisation.”
“No four-letter word beginning with S, Sherlock. Not in my blog.”
“My name’s – oh, I see what you mean. But don’t you see–”
“Ed, what do we do about the magical cat?”
He’s quiet for a moment, shovelling tea leaves into a big teapot. “We do need to talk about the cat,” he says, using a stick to tip the kettle to pour boiling water into the teapot.
Then he pulls on a gauntlet to lift the kettle off the hook over the fire and set it down on a big log – more a slice of tree-trunk, really – turned on its end to serve as a low table.
“You just wanted a cat up a tree, didn’t you?” he says, passing me my mug of tea.
“It just came out magical. You know that thing – the character took over.”
Ed sits down on the other throne facing the fire – the back of Ed’s cave is where he keeps the plunder, junk and architectural salvage that might come in useful in a future story – and gestures at the iron tray of muffins on the slightly larger low table – slice of tree trunk – between us.
I shake my head. “I was trying to be funny, I suppose. They’re off on a quest, and ahead of them there’s a cat needing to be rescued. I would have deleted it later.”
“I wouldn’t do that just yet. Look.”
The four riders have come up over a rise in the road and now they’re looking down at the source of all the noise.
Stace is still hissing with embarrassment.
“I told Mother I’d be perfectly warm in a sleeping bag!” she hisses at Pipsqueak, using one hand to shade her face from the scene ahead. “I know how to put up a tent on my own!”
Ahead of them is an encampment – more a festival, really. Tents, marquees, musicians on a stage, groups of cool-looking young people all drinking the same soft drink, all holding the label so that Pipsqueak can see the brand, laughing uproariously, raising glasses – bottles and cans, sorry; different flavours of the same basic drink – and all of them talking to their other hands – their free hands.
“What’s with the hand thing?”
“I wanted it to be authentic for a modern audience. But this is fantasy. No mobile phones. So there’s a lot of palmistry going on.”
“Oh, look,” says Roland. “Queen Overcaria must have taken the bypass. She got ahead of us.”
Roland pushes his horse forward, then reins it – him – back; he’s waiting for Stace to go ahead of him.
Which she does, spurring her horse forward. “Mother! I can take care of myself!” Pipsqueak hears her say, and then she’s gone on ahead of them, Roland following.
“Looks like we’ve got an easy bed for the night,” says Myrtille. “Come on.”
Pipsqueak and Myrtille spur their yaks into movement. An honour guard has formed ahead of them; Stace and Roland have already passed between the two ranks of men in tights. Beyond them, Pipsqueak sees Stace jump down from her horse and stride up to a woman wearing – well, she’s obviously the Queen, even at this distance.
But then an odd thing happens. The honour guard merges into a single line, now diagonally blocking the road. It’s as if Pipsqueak and Myrtille, on their yaks, are to be directed round to the back of the encampment.
Pipsqueak sighs. But then he feels the kitten push its head out of his jacket.
The kitten stares at the honour guard.
The honour guard reforms into two lines, as before.
Pipsqueak and Myrtille ride their yaks along the road and into the presence of the Queen, who is saying, “But darling, I thought it would be fun! Just you and me and–”
Stace is standing right in front of the Queen with her fists on her hips. Roland is kneeling in front of both of them. He looks back over his shoulder, clearly surprised to see Pipsqueak and Myrtille coming into the Royal Presence.
“Can’t you let me do anything on my own?” Stace is saying, in a loud furious whisper.
“Oh, this is going to be interesting.” Ed’s leaning forward to watch, elbows on his knees. “That honour guard was a nice touch, and now you’ve got a class system. How’s the Queen going to react to Pipsqueak and Myrtille?”
“Hang on,” I tell him. “We may have to wait until next week. I don’t think I’ve got enough batt
Automation is the opposite of familiarity, and yet it breeds contempt just as effectively.
It was a good idea, once, to send me an email asking me about my recent visit to your bank. Or my stay at your hotel, et cetera.
Now, though, it’s hard to believe that there’s a group of customer-service people gathered breathless around the inbox, waiting for my reply.
My friend asked for mayo the other day, and was told that the person empowered to add mayo to the menu wasn’t in the building.
Not quite in those words, but we went off into a conversation about how difficult it is, these days, to talk to anybody who’s got the agency to do anything.
I checked out of a hotel recently, and the youngster on reception said, “If you do the questionnaire, make it nine or ten. They don’t register anything else.”
He gets a ten for being real.