It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

The shiny new


Every now and again, a news story pops up about cameras in public – or even private – places. The latest is Aldwych Tube Station, which has been opened to the public as a museum. The owners of the museum have banned the use of DSLRs inside. They claim this is due to the cameras’ “combination of high quality sensor and high resolution”, which is patently stupid.

But then it doesn’t matter what is the reason for the ban.

It’s the same as concerts refusing entry to people with “professional” cameras or video-cameras. The owners of the event are trying to preserve their revenue stream. If someone with a camera is going to make money from the sale of photographs or video, then they want a slice of it. Or they want to make money from the sale of photographs they’ve taken themselves.

Unfortunately, that’s a horse that has long since bolted.

The technology now exists to take high-quality photographs using compact cameras, or even mobile phones. The distinction between “professional” and “own use” no longer exists, and hasn’t done for many years. Money-makers, of course, refuse to recognise this. Their inability to understand the technology, or how it is changing, and how it is changing the way people use it, is making them look increasingly dumb.

So how long before someone somewhere decides to roll back that technology?

Yes, there’s money to be made in the new shiny tech toys. But when those same toys impact on the revenue-generating ability of intellectual property – as they currently do – then someone somewhere is going to realise they were better off without them. I am not, I hasten to add, a photographer, not even as a hobby. I prefer words to pictures. But the same argument also applies to book piracy and music piracy. DRM is plainly ineffective. Each year new tools appear which make the ability of intellectual property to generate revenue more problematical.

The world this will create is already an established fact. I’m not especially interested in extrapolating how the world will change as that technology becomes more pervasive, more sophisticated and more ubiquitous. But imagine a world where the plutocrats and oligarchs introduced technological regression, a world where each new generation of a gadget had less functionality than the preceding one.

Even now, it’s easier to write stories set in earlier decades simply because some plots fail if set at the present time. Many crime stories, for example, don’t work when everyone has mobile phones, or when DNA profiling can identify a perpetrator from the tiniest amount of trace evidence. But a story about a world in which the functionality of technology, rather than technology itself, was tightly constrained… That might make for an interesting read. I mean, it’s not enough that plutocrats are gradually reducing our financial stability and purchasing power, but what if they also did the same to the uses to which we could put things? It’s not entirely implausible. While the technology can’t be un-invented, it does require expensive and sophisticated manufacturing facilities, and closing those down would do the job quite effectively.

Fortunately, it’s an arms race. Everyone is too afraid to give the advantage to a competitor. But if you believed in all those conspiracies theories – not so much the Gnomes of Zürich as the Bilderberg Group – then you could quite happily believe a technological rollback might be agreed upon.

Assuming, of course, the rate of technological progress has not been cleverly controlled for centuries…

4 thoughts on “The shiny new

  1. Have you read Walter Jon Williams’ “Dread Empire’s Fall” trilogy? /The Praxis/, /The Sundering/, /Conventions of War/. It’s pretty good; WJW turns his hand to space opera and pulls it off magnificently.

    One of the “gimmicks” is that the galaxy-dominating alien empire to whom all the various alien races – humanity included – are subjugated have forbidden all sorts of technology. AI, no nanotech, etc. are all outlawed.

    It allows him the freedom to write an old-fashioned naval-battles-in-space sort of tale, without either dei ex machinæ or having to make up excuses why there aren’t any.

    • I read the first one when it was published. At the time, I just saw that as an updating of the old swords & spaceship tales of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. I remember thinking WJW didn’t have a very good handle on class, and I never bothered reading the sequels.

  2. If you want to add fuel to those conspiracy theory fires, check out Silverberg’s editorial in the latest Asimov’s, where he discusses potential issues with the natural resources needed to create the various technological marvels that have become so commonplace today. If a person is a worrier, his article will make them worry even more.

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