Tom Wrigglesworth - the festive period is all too bleeping much

PUBLISHED: 15:32 29 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:32 29 December 2016

Tom Wrigglesworth

Tom Wrigglesworth

Archant

Technology has transformed our lives, our homes and our relationships – where will it all end?

Where Big Trak led, all manner of life-changing technology has followedWhere Big Trak led, all manner of life-changing technology has followed

Happy new year to you all! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. During a family visit I made over the Christmas period, I found myself sitting in a post-meal slumber of silence, save for the constant ding of mobile phone alerts and wireless toys. This made me realise that often, the technology that surrounds us spends more time in conversation with its counterparts than its human overlords.

Of course, technology is inescapable. It supervises, surrounds and underpins us. Even as I sit here I’m occasionally interrupted by the childish chirp of my mobile, the more confident beep of my laptop and an unsure tone I finally discovered was coming from an air con unit that I didn’t even know was on. On the way to work I was beeped safely across the road, when boarding the train I was beeped clear of the closing doors, and as if the metallic scraping noise and sudden change in ambient light wasn’t enough of a clue, I was beeped out of the lift.

Back home, my bread machine surrenders another perfect loaf, unwanted door knockers are given the slip thanks to my video surveillance system, while my MP3s and DVDs are streamed wirelessly to wherever I choose to ignore them.

But that’s now. In the 1970s families would often spend their evenings in the same room. With other quarters solely existing for cooking or sleeping and central heating being literally a pipe dream, broods would gather round a fireplace come night fall, the parents sharing pots of tea, the grandparents sharing advice.

Families these days can easily exist in different areas of the home, all plugged into various gadgets and toys that facilitate interaction with people of similar interests. MP3s offer audio sanctuary, there are TVs in every room and mobile phones allow us to chat to anyone from anywhere. Just 20 years ago, if you phoned someone and asked ‘where are you?’ the answer would have always been, ‘stop being daft, I’m in the hall’

Having our tea, the food not the drink, was always a time my family spent together. But common meal times have been shattered by the introduction of the freezer and the microwave. The ready meal and the mobile can mean the only thing families share is a broadband connection.

So has technology begun to chip away at the bonds of the very people who created it and us? I think it happened in the 80s. Somewhere between Big Trak and the Sega Mega Drive, technology blew a wind of change so devastatingly powerful it split the generations almost clean in two.

My own parents were on the wrong side when the electronic curtain came down. Destined to spend their days in the technological wilderness, they still write letters, answer their landline by announcing their phone number and visit travel agents to plan their next holiday. A holiday which, rather incredulously, is taken to ‘get away from the stress of modern life’.

This is actually a rather unfair observation. My parents are alienated by gadgets, but occasionally they embrace modern life and that makes me think there’s hope yet. On a recent trip home, I was welcomed by unusually excited smiles (my appearance doesn’t normally elicit such a response).

‘It’s great,’ my mother blurted, holding the TV remote like an Olympic torch. ‘We’ve just cracked Sky Plus.’

And that’s the correct attitude because technology can’t be stopped, only harnessed and channelled.

Relationships are often more complicated and sometimes more violent than the latest online war game, so the co-existence of family life and the internet is bound to be tricky. There’s nowhere to run because everyone knows you too well. From what will tease you to the brink of tears to how many sugars you have, there are no secrets. Online, however, we can exist under pseudonyms and reveal as little or as much as we like. A grey-faced middle manager might have a yo-yoing weight problem that’s well documented at home, but online he becomes DarkNight_72.

Let’s consider a normal family. Now, most people believe that 2.4 is the national average number of offspring. Not so; 2.4 is actually the release version of modern kids. As time passes we will soon see Children 2.5, little mites who are born wifi-enabled and come pre-installed with fixes for previous bugs such as chicken pox and swine flu. Early reports suggest that Children 2.6 will actually like vegetables, although at the time of writing, this can’t be confirmed.

Emails might have replaced fax machines, the last batch of Polaroid film might have shaken itself off the production line, mankind might yet inhabit the moon, but family life will stoically remain as loving, as bloody, as tight knit yet ultimately as dysfunctional as it ever was.

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