Knights of the Round Tablet

Surviving in the Modern Technological World

Knights sitting around a table showing a pie graph

We live in a world in the midst of a war.

No, this isn’t a religious post.

No, it isn’t political, either.

 

The war is one of technology, fed by companies desperate for survival.

The only thing keeping them alive is you: your attention, your willingness to buy their product, your NEED to buy their product. Even if you don’t need it.

They want you to consider yourselves consumers. The companies are the suppliers and they are supplying a product that you need.

But they lie.

The truth is, we don’t NEED a new operating system, or a new way to communicate with our friends. We don’t need new technology.

I think it is time that we changed our way of thinking about technology. We aren’t consumers, we’re serfs. In the Middle Ages, the system was supported by the masses, those my history teacher referred to as “happy peasants.” The peasants worked the fields, grew the grain, raised the livestock and provided the food for the upper class.

After the Norman conquest, the aristocracy in England was largely French. Our language reflects the division: cow is Celtic in origin and refers to what you milk and tend — the living animal; beef is from the French — the thing you eat. The same is true of other words like pig and pork, but I’ll spare you the language lesson.

If a serf wanted bread, s/he would take the grain to a miller who would mill the grain into flour, taking some of the grain as payment. He paid fealty to the lord of the manor, who in turn offered fealty to a greater lord, all the way up to the king. And kings had a nasty tendency to go to war.

Sometimes, during war, the serfs were massacred. Sometimes they were called to fight. The games of kings were played out in the blood of the masses.

Yes, that is a harsh analogy, but I grew up in Silicon Valley. I watched the computer industry in its infancy. Technology is, at its heart, piracy. Recently Google got into a fight with China. They lost. For now. These companies are capable of taking down countries.

I’ve heard one too many times, “Why don’t they just leave my [phone, operating system, refrigerator] alone? I don’t need an upgrade!” from a consumer forced into purchasing a new device. Why? Because everything is built with life limited parts these days. So, unless that practice changes (and why would they change something so profitable?) we’re all going to face the choice of upgrading or doing without. We need the miller.

I work with writers. Someone asked me recently if they needed to do social marketing as a writer. Well, no. I suppose you could roast the grain and eat that…but bread goes down a little easier. You could grind it yourself. You can walk the streets and sell your books in shopping malls. People do it all of the time. But the money is in the Internet sales, in ebooks.

You could try to live without swearing fealty to anyone or any product. Or, you could take the one thing you own that is prized above all else — your attention, your fealty — and give that to a knight that will defend you. Just pray you choose the right one.

Some live by the code, “Might makes right.” They bully smaller companies and competitors by building un-pleasant bugs into their system so that their devices can’t work with competitors software. (Note: that link is old, but gives a good example. This is just one of many I could cite. If you ponder, I’m sure you’ll come up with a list of devices you wish could work together…but for some reason, they don’t. How about Google and Facebook?)

The good news is that we are not trapped in the role of serf. We can become knights, leveraging our abilities to help influence the way the world of technology progresses. How? I’m going to talk more about this in another post, but you can start with building your Klout, your Circle, your fans, your … tribe.

The first step to surviving in this modern world is to wake up and stop thinking like consumers. Stop expecting these companies to give you the next best most fabulous device that will make your life easy. Remember that they are after one thing: their bottom line. You are important only in as much as you affect that bottom line.

I’m going to put on my Morgan le Fey costume and pull out the fake crystal ball here to make some rash predictions. I think Google+ is going in the right direction. Google watched Facebook people and they saw the huge controversies over privacy. Google is going to play on that to try and lure people away. I’m sure Facebook will come back with either a volley showing why Google isn’t protecting your information, or they’ll improve their interface. They have to. Their survival is at stake.

With technology in general, I think the consumers are getting angry at the increasing difficulty and incompatibility of devices. They want to share their information across their main computers, their netbooks, their phones. They don’t want to have to use a different technique for each device. I predict that in the near future devices will become simpler to operate as manufacturers try to lure the masses away from Apple and their ilk.

Globally, unless their is a major melt-down, I suspect our inter-connectivity is going to increase. In the publishing industry, this is fantastic news for writers.

But you’re going to have to give up your typewriter. I’m predicting a revolution in input devices. I love my QWERTY keyboard. I type fast. But I can not type on my Nook or a smart phone. Have you seen the speed these kids can type with only their THUMBS? Wow. There have been novels written that way. But I’m not ready for that yet. Dragon Naturally Speaking is a good product, but doesn’t run well on all devices. I’ve been a fan of OmniPage since its inception. I actually bought one of the first copies. But neither of those is going to really get my novel written faster. With the increase in writing, I suspect there will be a new wave of input devices. I’m certainly looking forward to them. Or maybe the future will be with virtual input devices, apps to simulate a keyboard you can actually type on, or something holographic. Of course, my favorite is still the pen computer.

The first key to surviving in this technological whirlpool is recognizing the war that is going on around us and our part in it. If we don’t, well…we’re just unhappy peasants.

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