Friday, 8 August 2014

Ebola, Remington, and the Power of Positive Thinking


Technology is less a two-edged sword and more a Möbius strip.

Recently, to combat the Ebola virus, for passengers arriving from African countries, airport officials in Europe and elsewhere are using thermal imaging scanners, as one of the disease's first symptoms is fever. Australia is an exception, relying on 'alert staff' to recognise such signs. Australia's confidence in the observational skills of its airline staff is such that the scanners available to them are still in storage. For thermal imaging, read instead positive self-image.

On the same day, it was announced that the Terms and Conditions, which a billion Facebook users have accepted in exchange for the Facebook Messenger app to appear on their mobile devices, allow Facebook to send SMS messages from that same device. That is to say, Facebook messages their marketing strategy as and when they choose, and the customer picks up the tab. Further, the app has the ability to both override the device's camera for app use, and can copy device voice recordings. Still 'like' it?

When I was a young man, I recall sitting at a desk, writing poetry. I used a pen and ink, literally, a nibbed pen and a bottle of ink. After many drafts of a poem, I would then take the exercise to the next technological level - a Remington manual typewriter. In those days, if you made a typing error, you simply used a piece of tape with a somewhat oily chalk on the backside, inserted it chalk-side to the page, and typed over the erroneous letter a few times to recreate the white surface. After that, you resumed typing, but the correct letter this time. It wasn't perfect. When you held up the page to the light, the mistakes could easily be seen as small dark smudges, but were less apparent holding the page at reading level.

The Remington in time was consigned to that most ignominious fate: Old Technology. In its stead, a portable electric typewriter, but which required the same chalk strips to underwrite my mediocre typing ability; I never really took to it. It hummed, and when the keys were struck they responded with a distinctive CLACK that was even louder than its manual predecessor.

In the first decade of this present century, I published nearly all the pamphlets and books of poetry associated with my name, principally, the Blackwater Quartet and Relic Environments Trilogy book cycles. In writing, I used either a personal computer or a laptop. The process is relatively quiet, includes many formatting features, and could be forwarded to my publisher with ease.

However, without anti-virus protection, any work I may have secreted as a file would be available to be manipulated and forwarded to unsuspecting recepients, whereby an opened, infected file would give the hacker access to an array of personal details of the other party.

It's sensibly the case that, unlike Australia, we accept the need to utilise anti-virus software to protect us against exotic, deadly programmes that would decimate our intellectual property, our friends' bank accounts, and our own sense of control over the events in our lives.

The alternative, of course, is pen and ink, a retro version of alert staff.

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