Stupid ****ing Grail!

I’d have been a lousy Knight of the Round Table.

I mean leave aside the whole religious problem for a moment (if only we could do that so easily outside the world of blogs and docufiction).

I’ve been on a quest this week. A selfless quest, not for my own glory or aggrandisement but for a higher purpose.

A PS5

Those of you who are gamers or who keep a cynical eye on the world of overhyped digital frippery will be aware that calling a week’s search for a £449.99 PS 5 Console and controller at a figure below £800 pales in comparison with the travails many have undergone in the search for this semi-mythical object.

Since Sony launched this thing at the back end of autumn last year (where I was raised we called autumn ‘back end’; so in my vernacular this would be ‘back end of back end’) there have been a ‘few problems’ with availability. As in ‘Noah had a few problems with light showers’.  They have been like any of those proverbial imaginary objects; rocking horse droppings, hen’s teeth, the Grail, difficult to pin down.

There are allegedly many reasons for this from the technical: shortage of microprocessors, via the trade wars angle: China v US slowing down movement and production of elements of the machine, to the socio-economic: scalpers buying up thousands from unsuspecting retail outlets, creating a shortage and hiking the price.

You can theoretically get them – on ebay and other less well known ‘reselling sites’ – for vastly inflated prices, but in the first months there were as many straight scams as overpriced reality, so even if you feel like paying £900 for a £449.99 object – it is most definitely a case of caveat emptor.

Now I’m not a gamer. Well I am, but a generally analogue one vice digital. I did play Lego City through to a conclusion on the PS4 and if I could get a few minutes on the PS4 I enjoyed bits of others – Call of Duty Modern Warfare for example, but mostly I play board and toy soldier wargames.

My son however is a big fan of digital games.

He had until recently however been extremely scathing of the PS5. He has a PS4 and had set his heart on a gaming computer as his next step up in the online gaming world and had been saving diligently to that end. Until something, I am still not sure what, happened about ten days ago. At that point what had been an object of, if not derision then bemusement, became a matter of deep and personal engagement for the two of us.

I started reading twitter feeds and predictions of ‘drops’. I stayed up until 5 in the morning chasing an Argos online drop which didn’t materialise, backed up with rising to pursue an 0800 Amazon drop which didn’t occur and then queuing for an hour a time on various retailers systems to be met with the lingering smell of the beast disappearing behind a cloud of smoke and messages of condolence, red lettering, no entry signs and blank screens depending on the whim or efficiency of the programmer of the purchasing ‘software’.

All this time my son’s hopes were raised and then dashed as he endured what I hope will be a salutary lesson in the smoke, mirror and lies of the retail marketing industry and associated flummery. That lesson doesn’t help his current mood nor my feeling of inadequacy as mighty hunter/warrior/pater familias or shopper.

This morning Argos was supposed, according my native twitter guides, to be, at last after several false predictions, releasing a large number of console, controller and game bundles (this is where, supposedly offering you a great deal, they force you buy crap you don’t want alongside what you do, in order to boost profits. It’s not just Argos, it’s an industry wide scam). Argos are known (apparently by those who claim to know, though their predictions are like Nostradamus’s- they work after the event by tracking backwards and ignoring the failures) for dropping between 0100 and 0500 hours. I had stayed up all night waiting for this release once this week already. The smart money said it had happen now. At 0230 I crashed after c10 hours sleep in the previous 72. I told my son to wake me if anything happened. At 0330hrs he was bouncing around – it was live, apparently on app only. We tried on his phone app and then on a laptop. Both got us to the trolley and once to the checkout, but each time it crashed or blackholed or came up with weird messages about errors placing it in the trolley although it was clearly marked as being in the trolley and then disappearing as you clicked on it.

At 0515hrs we both went back to bed and I crashed out. I had promised myself to check out a possible Amazon drop (‘smart’ money says this will happen next week) but I slept on until just before 1000hrs.

As I logged on it became clear from the backwards predicting native guides, that everyone had been stuffed by the same problems. I have no idea what happened but the sale only went properly live apparently c0800hrs, the rest was the work of a Morgan le Fay to lead the pure hearted knight to madness.

I tried for forms sake and everything worked on the site right up to payment then there was a glitch, and then there were none left. Then there were some elsewhere, then there weren’t. I suspect the evil spell is still cast on the works of the fair Argos, and the Grail of the PS5 remains as much an object of mystery and legend as ever.

I have come to believe that, like the Grail legend, in the case of the PS5 the pursuit itself is the aim of the exercise and not the possession of the object. The quest  itself is the real Grail and self knowledge and metaphysical awareness of ephemeral nature of existence is the reward.

More drops next week!

Ned Ludd Tweets

I have a mobile phone.

Well whoopee do!

Not earth shattering news in much of the world I know. ‘Mobiles’, ‘Cell phones’ or whatever else you want to call them are ubiquitous.

Except they are not.

I possess the cheapest (£10) most basic text capable, non Smart phone I could find, no contract and I use it a couple of times a month maximum. The reason I have it and use it is because scammers, cheats, liars, crooks and downright thieves make it necessary to have some sort of secondary check on my identity to avoid the banks, various services and online retailers giving my cash to the above scum.

You can probably sense a certain reluctance to engage in the technical ‘advancement’ of society in the above statements.

Well yes, and then again, most definitely no.

I was way ahead of the technical curve for many years, decades even. I had my own computer c1983. I pulled it to pieces, put various other bits in it to enhance its performance, programmed it with Basic and learned about how the whole idea of digital data worked. I worked with computers for the next decade or so, using them to store and manipulate data, communicate with people and streamline analysis. I worked with various programming languages and whilst not a programmer, knew a lot more about how the things worked than most users. I was online with my own computer c1996 and I pulled it apart and put bits in and out and tweaked the performance. I hung on to the myriad operating system enhancements and was very aware of the possibilities of computer vulnerabilities and security issues. I still use computers daily.

I never bought a mobile until recently.

Work made me carry one, which they owned and gave me.

And right there is one of the reasons I was quietly confident in the nineties that the whole idea of mobile phones was a flash in the pan, a fad like CB radio. Who the hell voluntarily makes themselves available to their boss 24/7? And pays for the privilege of being an indentured wage slave?

Another one is probably related to my ASD. Or possibly my generally curmudgeonly nature. I don’t like being available to people at their convenience at all. One of the most liberating moments of my life was when I realised you didn’t have to answer that ringing phone. You chose whether you were available or not. I know people who have some sort of panic attack if a phone rings more than two or three times in a room without being answered. And of course a mobile makes you available all the time.

The good thing from that point of view is that few people actually ring each other to talk any more. Older people may text, or email. Young people instagram, tweet, facebook, post on TikTok, perhaps Zoom or Team (though these are probably for sad old people around 30). There are newer things out there and old media and platforms that hang on, Snapchat anyone? I read a piece the other day by a young media type who was describing an online dating experience where her prospective beau made the crass error of asking if they could continue the discussion on Snapchat.. This twenty year old swiped left asap. Who knows what systems will attract millions and which will be consigned to media limbo, to wander round after a brief burst of enthusiasm, lost souls in the phantom zone?

Is this a burst of creativity in the human journey? Or is it a side road to hell?

Probably neither. TikTok (remember Vine?) et al may produce entertaining moments and help spark creative processes but I’m not sure how much they will sustain them.

Is all that a reason to spend around a thousand pounds a year on a plastic device that doubles as a slave collar? A machine that demands constant attention for the pay off of cats falling into waste baskets? Yes we can pay for things with it, at the risk of having our identity, bank details and cash taken from us remotely. But how much does it anaesthetise us to reality?

I watch people, not just young people, who are constantly observing their phone, on trains, buses, waiting for something, walking somewhere. Do they not realise they are missing life itself?

I remember being asked in the 1990s about some earth shattering moment in a television soap opera the night before. I hadn’t watched it. As they described the background set up and convoluted denouement, I realised my own life was far more interesting and entertaining. That was not because I was such a superstar. I wasn’t. But ASD or not, I was far more engaged in the real world around me than those who avoided it through a monastic commitment to following a made up electronic life.

Odd thing for a writer to say?

Possibly, but a book can be all consuming as you consume it,. But then you emerge from that world, altered perhaps by its profundity, or maybe not, but you emerge and engage with real people and circumstances.

The electronic tsunami of distracting drivel that comes through ‘smart’ ‘phones’ does not allow emergence into reality.

I was an early adopter of computer technology because it allowed me to do things I couldn’t do before, and allowed me to do things I already, did faster and better. That allowed me more time to engage in the real, analogue world around me. We’ve allowed those who want to use technology to distort and destroy reality to gain control of it. And worse we are willingly paying for the privilege of our enslavement.

I’m not a luddite. But we need to regain control of what technology does for us and make sure it works for us not the other way round.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

I was, as I think I have said here before, an early(ish) adopter of the Internet. I ordered a computer from long deceased company Colossus, not off the peg but built to spec, in 1996 and went online. I had used the internet before, but through work. It was an exciting and dare I say Brave New World to venture forth on my own. I wish hadn’t said that actually given how the net is being exploited these days.

I bought and played with, and pulled apart, and added to, and programmed my first computer in the 1980s – a ZX81, still in the attic somewhere.*

Since then I have had a sort of love affair with the computer.

I still love the idea.

I hate the way they have been incorporated into a method of control and social domination by various actors in what has become the Digital Age.

Before anyone thinks I have become a Luddite, I haven’t. Not at all. The simple act of turning data into 0s and 1s and manipulating that data for our benefit, to connect us, to simplify tasks, to free up time, to allow interdisciplinary interactions to create new ways of thinking about the world remains a magnificent opportunity and goal.

However, we missed it.

Oh, it goes on in places to some extent, but finding them and participating is almost impossible unless one is already an insider, which is hardly the point of the great democratic experiment of information sharing via the web.

Commerce has taken over and now controls a system intended for academics and the sharing of knowledge. It may be convenient to buy plastic aquarium plants online from China with the click of a mouse (that dates me. Who uses a mouse now?) but is it what some of our brightest minds envisaged as they crafted the internet and the World Wide Web? The reduction of one of the great opportunities in world civilisation to retail, pornography and streaming media, seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Why do I rant now?

Probably because I am getting old and crotchety but also because many things are being moved onto a system that does not work as well as the brochure specs – who knew!? And the existence of the net shuts down the, often better, options. The latest being health care first point consultations. This move is already happening as overworked, understaffed GP practices struggle to meet demand. Matt Hancock is now suggesting digital consultations should be the norm.

I just spent 25 minutes trying to book an appointment, not for me, with a service (not a first point of contact) that has been sent to work from home because of Covid-19. The ‘hold’ system kicked me out once, was impossible to hear when I was eventually connected, and cut me off half way through, before I eventually booked a telephone consultation which will probably necessitate a series of video meeting. All calls were through the internet via a laptop at the service’s end. If I had rung on a normal line it would have been done in three minutes.

Then I read https://thematicallymeandering.com/2020/08/01/digitally-downsizing/ which I recommend.

In it there is a ‘rant’ about online content. I share a lot of his concerns. What worries me as much as the oceans of crap out there from SEO writing styles and advertising is the use, and misuse, of data. I turn off as much targeted advertising as I can but some slips through despite my best efforts. I may be weird because of my ASD but I hate getting bombarded with ‘Your interests: DIY and aquarium plants’ offers because I idly looked at insulation foam and plastic plants for a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with DIY or tropical fish.

A silly example perhaps, but what else are the big data companies, the hangers on and the dubious governments like the Chinese Communist Party doing with this stuff? My data is apparently valuable and is being collected whether I want it or not. I don’t do the major social media platforms for that reason, and let’s be honest because I have ASD and hate the idea of what passes for social interaction at the best of times. Despite my attempts to decouple from manipulation, the vast majority of us don’t and this affects me. Who knows how major political decisions are being made by a group of floating voters swayed by subtle and not so subtle manipulation by everyone and their dog?

Most seriously what worries me about how the internet has been developed is that, unlike Number Six in The Prisoner, I am apparently a number, and the commercial internet hijackers have got it.

 

*But without the means to operate it – no black and white TV, which was used as the monitor. I kept it for ages, at my parents’ house, in various storage facilities and finally when I stopped moving around with work so much, at home. Until after one (last?) move to our current family home I ‘decluttered’ and binned the still working black and white TV. It could no longer pick up a terrestrial TV signal as they had all been turned off. In a fit of ‘what’s the point of keeping it’ (I had previously watched it occasionally in emergencies when other screens were unavailable) I sent it to the great recycling plant in the sky.

Only to remember too late what its primary purpose had been when purchased in 1982.