The Digital Paradox

Technology, patience and being more 'analogue'

I have fond yet hazy memories of unwrapping Batman: The Movie and Double Dragon for the Spectrum ZX +2 on the morning of my 8th birthday. Given that these games came on cassette tapes I had to leave the latter loading all day whilst I went to school, just so it was ready to play upon my return, hopefully! There always seemed to be an element of trial and error, tinkering, superstition, or just plain luck involved trying to get the thing to work properly. Saturday mornings after football were often fraught with difficulty trying to tame it, but the sense of escapism that came with success made it all worthwhile.

These days I can buy, download, install, play, get bored and delete said game during a trip to the loo. But why am I so blasé about this technical achievement? Isn't the speed at which I can now access this once treasured game a modern miracle? No, because I'm part of 'Generation Now'.

Generation Now is bombarded with content every day. Steam and Humble Bundle offer heavily discounted software every day. Spotify grants Generation Now a music catalogue so massive that it will only ever listen to 1% of it for a relatively nominal fee. Generation Now receives an entire series of House of Cards in one large, binge-watch-shaped box akin to a disaster-relief package being thrown off the side of a chinook, becauseGeneration Now is so impatient.

“I like seeing how things work”

The thing is, I miss the old days. And this isn't a tale of nostalgia, or a rant on the decline and state of the microtransaction-riddled, DLC-filled gaming culture of today. It's part of what's made me do what I do today. I like seeing how things work, I like making things work, but so much of that is hidden now. Adobe, Java, and Apple want to update my software every day, but my Spectrum never needed one, it worked (relatively) fine without.

But here is my quandary, I love new technology! I spend time both in and out of work doing R&D, whether it be on the Oculus Rift, Unreal Engine 4, or the latest plugin releases for 3DS Max. I love 'invisible' tech, where I can listen to music through my headphones on the way home, and the same song continues playing on my computer when I get home.

Perhaps I'm half-analogue/half-digital. A peculiar middle-ground that is expanding every day, all because of the Raspberry Pi, a surprisingly powerful micro-computer the size of a credit card. I've currently got mine set up to connect to either my home or work wifi (depending on which is available), log into my Spotify account, and play music under instruction from a locally hosted webpage. They tell me this is similar to what the Sonos does (but not for £25!).

Thankfully there's a new generation of kids growing up with this piece of kit, which doesn't just 'work' as soon as you plug it in. The Raspberry Pi is leading a coding revolution, and is becoming increasingly prevalent in primary schools around the world. I hope it leads to more people being pragmatic and fixing things for themselves. 'Plug and Play' is great, but makes us lazy, and when things don't work as they're supposed to, it sends us back to the dark ages.


Alex Farrell

Date published

12 March 2015