Matt tells a story of a crappy journey on a bus with a angry baby, teenagers playing music, and tutting fellow passengers. Then one teenager pulls out a battered old iPad with the front camera turned on, to use as a mirror for putting on make-up. The iPad was covered in stickers, and had myriads of uses. It was a moment when Matt realised that something had changed in the world.
We can always be for or against progress. But progress is hard to define. Are things really getting better faster? The reality is more complicated. In one century we have moved from no human flight to landing on the moon. Diseases which we thought we’d snuffed out are now resistant to antibiotics. Technological progress has no value if there is not also moral progress.
Technology has become ‘dull’, like writing, printing or TV. So it is starting conversations about how we work, relax or view the world. We don’t yet know the potential of TV, or high-resolution photography, or mobile technology, so it is wrong to worry about e.g. the death of books or to close down debates.
We imbue our artefacts with a life of their own. We make things special; we annotate and dog-ear books. The iPad on the bus shows that the outlook for e-readers and tablets is not going to be mass-produced featureless items. Being human is about making things more than just things. Yes, we need to have conversations about conflict materials and child safety online, but also we need to marvel about how adaptable we are as a species and how we use things until they are beautiful.
It takes a lot of bravery to let the next generation explore new technologies, let alone follow them.