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Modern tech can shrink our ability to unplug

By Ian Morrison | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-17 08:45
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Technology is always something that has intrigued me ever since I was a little boy. I was one of those children who liked to take things apart to see how they worked, much to the frustration of my parents who had no technical inclinations whatsoever.

In the decades since then there have been such remarkable advances in many fields that, if they had been depicted in the 1970s in a TV program predicting the future, many people would have considered them to be too far-fetched.

One of the greatest advances has been in the miniaturization of technology. Although I was only 4 years old, I will never forget the day in 1977 when my family got its first color television set. It was an absolute beast of a machine, which was about as deep as it was wide.

The cathode ray tube technology of televisions in those days (and ever since the launch of regular daily television broadcasts by the BBC in 1936) meant that, the bigger the screen, the deeper the machine. That's why most people had their TV sets in a corner of the room in those days. In fact, the early TV sets of the 1930s had to have vertically mounted cathode ray tubes, with the picture being shown on a mirror placed over at a 45-degree angle over the screen.

That first color TV set my family had was also an extremely fragile piece of equipment. The job of a television repairman seemed to be quite a prosperous profession in those days, due to the frequency with which TV sets broke down.

Nowadays, TV technology bears virtually no resemblance to what existed in those days. The same can be said for radios, both in terms of size and cost. I recently bought a multiband (FM, medium-wave and short-wave) receiver for less than 25 yuan ($3.59). It can fit in my pocket and I have so far received broadcasts on it from as far afield as Turkiye and Singapore. Compare this to the literally hundreds of pounds my first serious shortwave radio cost in 1988, and it was so heavy that you could literally practice weight training with it.

But where the changes have been the most dramatic has been in the field of computer technology. My family got what was laughably known as a "home computer" in the early 1980s (a Commodore Vic-20). It was basically a glorified games machine with a capacity measured in mere kilobytes, a piece of technological trash. Now we have hand-held devices which combine so many features that it's mind-boggling — they are computers, phones, cameras, video cameras, photo albums, clocks, etc.

But does this ease with which we can access all of these features come at a price? I think it does. Maybe it's all far too convenient to access now, and we've reached the point at which many people are simply addicted to this technology. Next time you are among a sizable number of people, such as on public transport, or at a meeting, take a look around and you will see what I mean. So many people are simply transfixed by those small screens.

Yes, small is beautiful, but perhaps bigger is better for some technology in order to prevent us from becoming too over-reliant on it.





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