Tuesday 24 May 2005

Technology and mundanity.

When a new technology appears, it's tricky to know how it's going to turn out. When it's new and shiny and different and special, we tend to think it'll always be special. But, once we get used to having it around, a bit of us rubs off on it, and it becomes slightly human. Ringtones are a good example of this. Watch an episode of Star Trek. All their communicators make exactly the same noise. A large group of starship officers is having a chat or a fight; we hear a blip-blip; and only one of them reacts. We know now that this is total nonsense: if all the communicators had the same alert tone, every single officer would start patting their pockets and looking at each other aimlessly. When Star Trek was thought of, tiny portable comms devices did not exist, so the writers felt that the officers would pay close respectful attention to such amazing gadgets. Now we've all got at least one, and they've become a bit human, each with its own, infinitely annoying, voice.

For all his faults, this is one thing George Lucas gets dead right. One day, maybe we will have hyper-drives and droids and guns that fire streaks of hot light, and, after a brief honeymoon period, we will treat them just as Han Solo does: we'll kick them and swear at them.

All this is leading up to a thought that occurred to me the other day.

If we ever invent proper teleportation devices, I reckon I know what one of their most popular uses will be. Not transport: something that dangerous, we'll use it on inanimate objects for many years before we risk atomising ourselves. No, the first major marketing success of teleporters will be little devices that fit discretely into your underwear. Bladder full? Bowels shifting? Press a button and go for it. Nobody need ever know. All those times when you really, really need to go but just can't get to a WC — no more. Toilet breaks a thing of the past. Imagine the effect on the arts: operas could be tripled in length, with no need for intermissions. Never having to use a public toilet ever again: this would be true freedom, the likes of which humankind has never known before.

And then the practical jokes would start. Some bright spark would hack the thing, changing the factory destination settings so that they could piss on chavs remotely. A wave of utterly disgusting crime would very literally besmirch our society, until the politicos reacted with some new and wildly inappropriate law against... what would we call it? Remote defecation? Scataporting? Telefouling? Yeah, telefouling has a ring to it. Telefoulers would get five years in clink and, upon release, would be banned for life from owning a pissporter, hence creating a new black market. Would you attach an unlicensed, unguaranteed pissporter of uncertain provenance? I know I wouldn't. Doctors would learn to cope with a range of fascinating and embarassing new injuries suffered by the criminal classes. Many of them would be crippled. Such injuries would become so commonplace that anyone with a pronounced limp would be openly mocked in the streets.

And Californians would attach them to their pets.

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