Perhaps more pertinently, did you notice that I was away?
It was just a short break, but I don’t mean to say that I actually went anywhere. I was stuck right here, you just couldn’t see me.
My website crashed on the 4th April, whilst I was updating a WordPress plugin, goodness knows why or how, it’s something I’ve done a million times before, once you click the update button you have no control over what the machines do as they chat away and pass information.
Anyhow, for whatever reason, I turned my head and when I looked back the screen was blank. I refreshed the page and got the dreaded, “not found on this server” message.
To cut a long story very short, it was Tuesday 9th April before service was restored, I tried to use my hosts backups to get the site running myself but there was a problem with copying the files. The software said it wouldn’t do it! So I had to get their technical guys to do it for me. They told me that there were problems with permissions and some other technical stuff that I understood one word in three of, so when the man was explaining it all to me I just said um every now and then.
It’s all OK now though, although I must admit to a feeling of dread when I found that I still had to update the plugin on the newly restored version. What if it all happened again?
The fact that you’re reading this means that it didn’t, all my problems must have been caused by a random event, maybe a power spike or possibly a milliseconds loss of connection during the update. That was enough to bring the whole thing crashing down. There’s an appearance of strength, of a robust system; but it’s all remarkably fragile underneath the shiny surface.
This all got me thinking
We rely so much on the technology, on the instant, interconnectedness of it all. At the end of the day, something as insignificant as a crackle on the line or a poor connection can scupper a service that we now take for granted will be continuous. And that made me realise how things have changed, almost without us noticing it.
How did technology, which was supposed to be our slave, somehow turn into our master? Why is our ability to do anything now at the whim of a collection of ones and zeroes?
Back in the day, I was a navigator on merchant ships. I had my own sextant; armed with it, a chronometer, Nautical Almanac and a set of mathematical tables, I could find my way around the world. I needed no outside help, no power supply or internet connection. I was self-sufficient.
In those days (the 1970’s) once you lost sight of land, you were largely out of touch with the real world and left to get on with it. As long as the owners heard from you via radio on Mondays and Thursdays as you crossed the ocean; everyone was happy. There were few chances of phone-calls home, letters a month or more old might be waiting for you in port if you were lucky, yet nobody minded. If something went wrong, you mended it (if you could), replaced it (if you had a spare) or did without until you could get another.
I left full time sea-going in 1988, returning to pilotage in 1994. In six years, the technology had changed completely. Now, satellites gave you your position to within 10 meters worldwide, you could dial home anytime you wanted, ships were no longer out of touch. Of course, there was the other, unwanted side to this change.
Whereas before you were in charge and left to get on with it, now I was hearing from Captains that the office staff (most of whom were NOT Captains), were forever on their backs, asking what they were doing, questioning every decision and generally being a pain. Not necessarily because they knew better, but merely because they could. This was sold to the ships as a good thing, totally ignoring the fact that the whole idea of your training and experience was to prepare you to make your own decisions. Captains of many years experience were leaving because they were always being second-guessed and overruled, in the end, the office got what they wanted, which was a cadre of yes-men who never thought independently and did what they were told (but were still useful to blame when it all went wrong).
It was sad to see what had happened to the autonomy that I had once enjoyed, whilst all the time, it was being heralded as progress.
I suppose the moral of the story is that technology can either be your friend or your enemy. Like the sextant, you have to know how to use it, and always remember who is in charge.
You might be wondering
Just what this has to do with writing Science Fiction?
Well, as much as the events in my novels take place in the future, we will still be there. As a species that is. What I mean is that, when we move out into the Galaxy, we will take all our vices and emotions, our good and our bad points, with us on our journey.
We will be even more reliant on technology than we are now. All the things I have seen and heard, all the conspiracies and corporate shenanigans; the websites not working because of an error in the code or a break in transmission, that will continue.
People and machines will still behave as they do now. I can weave my tales and they will sound as true as they ever did; because human nature and our relationship with technology won’t have changed that much.
Not only that, given past performance, there will still be that sense of disbelief when a button is pushed and nothing much happens.
I’ll leave you with that thought, see you again with another Showcase post on Thursday.