Monday 31 October 2011

Speaking In Tongues

Yesterday we found ourselves with a group of people again who we first knew around a decade or go and after. It was good to see them and enjoy chatting about matters of common interest, largely music and performance. But this time there was a key difference to the nature of discussion.

Then we might disagree or wonder about matters of simple fact in the way that people do. There was also the question of how to find information, where, when and at what cost. On top of that who to contact to find things out and what advice they might give from their knowledge or books. “If she was here she would know….” Etc.

This time there was none of that. A small device held in the palm of the hand linked to a myriad of sources and with immediate contact to any number of people could give a stream of information and guidance. Later, on the train home, we noticed very many of the other passengers clicking away.

This time I had my own back on the technology. The train was diverted for scheduled works. The passengers suddenly did not know where exactly they were and the details of the changed route were not there. Only I knew, for the simple reason of long experience and the knowledge acquired over many years.

But this is no reason for smugness because the use of all this is now routine and often necessary to the way of my life. A couple of days before someone we knew had been in deepest Surrey and did not know the rail system. So sitting at home and looking at the screen I was able to tell them on their old mobile phone where they were going and what to do next at the London Terminal.

It was going to be a couple of hours before they were due so in that time other things needed attention. Another person was badly strapped for time and with a web site to care for and a post due. So I spent half an hour scratching round the relevant expert web sites, set up a few links and passed them on to be redone as the item needed.

Quite how much library time and photocopying once would have been required and then later reading and editing in hard copy for documents to be despatched is not easy to calculate. But it would have been a lot of time and work.

Then to something of my own, looking into the family history of someone who asked for help and seeing what gave and if there was anything of interest. This one was a lucky run, much of the information needed was there for the taking and not only that there was one reliable source to enable confirmation.

There was just one issue, a twenty year gap for great great grandfather, so what was he up to? After a little work the National Archive delivered the goods in the shape of his complete naval records and then other sites gave pictures and the histories of all the vessels on which he had served.

About round an hour or so it took to research, give or take a cup of tea. Also, the cost was tiny. Not so long ago this work would have taken days or weeks, long sessions in libraries and a good deal of travel, the cost would not have been small.

Not just that, the number of intermediaries was nil, it was all between me and the machine. Clearly, the effort was in putting the information and advice on the web by someone somewhere but this cost had been carried in other ways and at my end was really minimal. The way the world works has utterly changed.

Beyond that there is much more. We are no longer confined to what the main media decide to tell us or the many and various fictions our politicians or the material sitting in one place or another, often distant. Also, we do not have the business of access it is all there for the taking.

Within hours or even minutes of an official statement or story or the rest there can be a flood of comment, information and often genuine expertise and knowledge to draw on to balance and examine this for those inclined to look.

Add to that the way we can now communicate immediately and extensively, if not always effectively. The world has changed but there is little sign that government, the main media, security forces or others have even begun to catch up with it.

So where will I be pitching my tent tomorrow?


  1. "The way the world works has utterly changed."

    It has and I don't think we yet understand quite what is going on and where it will lead us.

  2. Yes, but (as in the Library of Babel) it is not always possible to distinguish the valid information from the noise.