We need to talk about technology

Mohamed Hassan / Pixabay

Last night I spent upwards of 40 minutes trying to get my banking app to work. I need it to work, because it’s the only way I can access my statements, which is crucial for cash flow (as any fule noe).

I could cut this long story short but I’m not going to: if I had to suffer, so shall you.

As I live in Israel, the app is in Hebrew. I do not speak or read Hebrew. The only Hebrew keyboard I am equipped with is on my phone, the self-same phone that the app is on. I inputted my details and password, and a message in red came up. I screenshotted the message, sent the picture to myself to read on my laptop, switched to the translator app, carefully copied the text in Hebrew into the app, read the translation and slowly the problem was revealed. I had apparently put in the wrong password too many times and was instructed to go to the website to create a new one. This I dutifully did, screenshotting, transferring, and translating page after page of instructions, directives, warnings, advice and, finally, a promise that i was to be issued with a new password, after which i would need to make up my own.

Practically salivating with the prospect of finally being able to manage my cash flow (a hideously adult activity at the best of times), I entered the shiny new password, along with my other details. The screen spooled for a while. Nothing else happened.

When did life become this way? When did any of us sign on a dotted line to indicate that we were willing to spend upwards of 40 minutes of our evening fruitlessly stabbing our phone screens with our index fingers?

While this was going on, I was listening to Talk Radio. A good half of the very interesting and esteemed guests they had on had connectivity issues, so we only heard half of what they wanted to say. The app for the station is dodgy too, every now and then it jumps back five minutes and you have to listen to the same opinion over again. I remember listening to talk radio back in the 90s, and the line was never bad, because it would have been a landline back then.

I’m no Luddite. I’m not about to start smashing up spinning jennies or anything like that. In some ways modern tech has enhanced our lives – last year i got stuck in London without Google maps and had to navigate using the local maps inside bus shelters, which was an adventure.

On the other hand, it was an adventure, and I saw a lot more of the streets I walked down (mostly looking out for more bus stops). Google maps gets you from A to B alright, but you get there with your head down, your eyes on the screen. And I don’t recall ever really getting lost before it came along, we just consulted paper maps instead.

Likewise with the translate app, which I often say has been a Godsend – but has it? Would my Hebrew have come along a bit more by now had I been forced to use it? Probably.

I say this not as a call to throw out all tech and go back to the Halcyon days of the 1980s or 60s or whenever. Those times weren’t perfect either, and mobile technology has brought much to our lives, just as washing machines and fridge freezers did in the 50s. Rather, I guess this is more of a plea for a debate, a discussion, an acceptance that, as with everything, there is good and bad inherent in these technologies. That as much as we have made gains from them, much has also been lost.

The Covid crisis has effectively put the world on pause, but that pause gives us time and space to review: what we have, what we want, and what direction we want to go in. Perhaps it’s time that we took a frank assessment of where we are in relation to tech, where we want to be, and more importantly what we’re not prepared to lose in the rush ever forward. That would at least start to make the whole thing worthwhile.