It ate’nt dead yet

Credit for the title, of course, goes to the one and only Terry Pratchett and the amazing Granny Weatherwax. Thank you Sir Terry, and Granny, for that immortal line, “I ate’nt dead.”

In science fiction we often take household objects and extrapolate from what is annoying about them to how they might change in future.

Take the mobile phone. You have to carry the phone around. You leave it places. You forget where you put it. And then, when you do find it, it’s running out of battery. Battery life has improved out-of-sight since the first phones but you still have to charge the phone regularly.

So, extrapolating from the first brick phone—and haven’t we all seen the Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps trailer, whereGordon Gecko gets his brick phone back—to the modern mobile, where do we go from here? Well, there’s the smart watch. That saves us carrying the phone around, but we have watchphones already. Where can we go next?

Phones built into our bodies, maybe. Our body powers the phone, the signal received wirelessly in the jaw and sent to our ear, sound picked up and sent in a similar way.

What about cars? Some of us spend a lot of time commuting. Self-driving cars are coming and I want one. Think how much you could with the time you spend driving.

Science fiction writers think about obsolescence as well. What do we do now that we might not do in the future?

Cleaning? Please. Let the bots begin. Food delivery? Yes, more bots.

Along the way we lose some things. Usually the new thing is better, or more effective. Firearms have replaced swords. (Some might argue this is not a good thing. It’s easier to kill with a firearm, and more hands-off.) The motor car has replaced the horse and carriage. The ball-point has replaced the fountain pen and is now being replaced in turn by gel, felt-tip and other pens.

I was in one of the last classes in primary school where you graduated from pencil to fountain pen when your writing was good enough. Sadly, ball-point pens replaced that a couple of years later, but I loved my fountain pen.

Another tool, or rather technique, that has become almost obsolete is shorthand. This has largely been replaced by voice recordings, transcription services and voice recognition. It’s not dead yet, but gradually being phased out.

I didn’t learn shorthand at school. Sometimes I wish I had, and if I had learned it that I had kept it up. There are so many ways I could use it at work. Meeting notes, research, taking down instructions. Right now I would find it really useful.

Interestingly, shorthand isn’t new. Forms of shorthand were used by the Roman Empire, and in Imperial China.

Maybe shorthand will be around longer than I think.

4 replies on “It ate’nt dead yet”

The hero in L.J. Hayward’s Where Death Meets the Devil has what’s basically a smartphone augment in his head. I think it’s sort of a near future setting. It’s kind of fascinating. He can “talk” on the phone in his head.

I’ll have to check it out. I think C. J. Cherryh has a communications device in Hellburner/Heavy Time (Company Wars) where the military have communications devices built into their jaw, and I’m not sure if it’s the same books or something else, but I remember one of the soldiers got promoted and they wired a new device in.

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