The tyranny of Technology

The tyranny of Technology

Tyranny comes in various forms. Political, social, financial, religious, emotional, all these and more are capable of becoming tyrannical. Before aircraft, distance was tyrannical, before anaesthetic, pain, before wireless, communication. Today’s No 1 tyranny is technology. How can I say that when technology has brought us such benefits? I am only alive today because of technology and very grateful I am for that, too. What is this tyranny, then?

When your life is dominated by something to the point where you have almost lost control, that is tyranny. Look around you. If you’re on the sidewalk, you’d better. The others aren’t, so they will likely bump into you. Watch the behaviour of children. They will be obeying the commands of technology long before they understand their parents attempts at control. I saw a baby of about three months old wiggling its fingers in anticipation of its first mobile computer. I hope it won’t become tyrannised by technology – but I fear it will.

Meanwhile, you and I already definitely are. Were this of our own volition I could hardly berate the situation. It is not, so I can. Three examples. In my comparative youth I joined a health insurance scheme. It was called Private Patients Plan and was subsequently merged with AXA. For many years they have served me well, and made a substantial profit themselves about which I have no complaints. They know more about me than my wife, I think. There are few parts of my body that they have not explored, albeit vicariously.

Over the last year they upgraded – there’s a word to make you shiver – their IT system. The simple process of paying them an annual premium has now become a nightmare of significant proportions. The relationship manager – I shall have several ‘shiver’ words so I won’t keep highlighting them – they introduced me to in order ‘to take care of all my needs’, disappeared after a week. Nobody told me. Repeated emails to him went unanswered. When I finally called them they expressed surprise, not that he had gone but that I didn’t realise that these people come and go faster than the seasons. I have another one now. I think.

Even so, the process of giving them not insubstantial sums of money required emails to and fro which must have threatened the capacity of the internet. But wait, there is even better to come. I first banked with Barclays in 1952 in Aldgate East, London. The nice Bank Manager there allowed me to rest my bowler hat on his ebony hatstand while he guided me through the process of opening a bank account. It took almost fifteen minutes. I have remained a loyal and mildly significant member of Barclays clientele ever since.

A few months ago I received a somewhat abrupt letter from the Headmaster – I do apologise, I mean the Bank Manager – telling me that if I didn’t re-identify myself in some five different ways within a few weeks my account would be closed. I was to have my passport, my photograph, my signature all notarised by a Public Notary. Original house bills proving my payments for utilities were to be couriered (something they hadn’t bothered to do when writing to me) to them by a fractiously near date. Their technology had, you see, tyrannised them. And me.

At my age I am used to having to produce life certificates each year. I have arranged for all the people who need them to have my death certificate at the appropriate time but they don’t believe me. My unblemished record of honesty with those concerned has apparently passed them by. I, on the other hand, have not yet passed by and must damned well prove it to their satisfaction. I find it faintly insulting that they assume that my last act of living will be to try to cheat them of my death. I know it’s not the individuals I have to blame for this. It’s the technology, stupid.

Both the above examples are technology in search of a purpose. They have found one. It runs counter to your needs and mine. Companies should think before they impose unacceptable demands on their customers. The ultimate reaction could be painful for them.

But perhaps the worst tyrant of modern technology isn’t the tech itself but the people who service it. My acquisition of a mobile phone of high repute, and reasonably high cost, presented some challenges. The new facilities, only about 2% of which I am ever likely to use, are different from my previous phone of the same make. I sought guidance by phone – visits to the cathedrals of these modern gods being a little beyond my crumbling frame. A seemingly nice young person tried to guide me through the mysteries of the new digitisation.

He was patient, I was patient, neither of us realizing that there was, in fact, a fault in the product. After an exasperating forty-five minutes he seemed to be coming to the end of his tether. He said he wanted to ‘move on’ – something I find many people wanting to do whether the job is completed or not. He then made the final coup de gras.

“Why don’t you ask a more savvy younger person to help you,” he said.

Mercifully, he didn’t understand my reply.