The Death of Pong and the Burden of Convenience


Experiences in your childhood often inform opinions and tastes in your adult life. Holidays by the sea as a child mean the slightest whiff of caravan damp and salt air and I’m happier than a DJ in a children’s ward. Unfortunately there are traumas too.
1980 may have been the year Lennon was shot and the cold war began to reheat but for me it will always be synonymous with the death of my Pong games system.

I can still remember the paddles, the metal switches and the logos of stick men representing six different sports from Hockey to Tennis, all essentially the same game but I was six and easily amused. One afternoon during half term I managed to wangle half an hour between my Nan’s Australian daytime soap opera regime to squeeze in a game or two.

I reached painfully around the back of the TV to unplug the brown aerial cable, fumbling with some trepidation of electrocution, and replaced it with Pong’s. I flicked the on switch, nothing. I double-checked channel six was selected; it was, so why is the screen filled with manic snow? I flicked the power switch once more then realised the small plastic bubble was not glowing red. At first it was short-term disappointment, Sons and Daughters was about to start and I’d missed my chance to play it for the day. It was only when it was explained to me later that it would never work again that the crushing weight of the word “Never” sent me into hysteria and the kind of hissy fit I was generally not prone to.

This was the first time I remember technology disappointing me and the scars still itch to this day.

I am not Luddite; I obviously use the Internet, a laptop and I could not do without my IPod, despite possessing several hundred records. I remember a vinyl snob admonishing me for owning it; he just didn’t seem to get the argument that it was difficult to carry a record player and a several kilos of records on the bus. That kind of snobbery is irrational. I also have no time for the opinion that we were better off a hundred years ago when we were evidently not.

What I do insist on is that technology enhances our lives, serves us and does not take it upon itself to make decisions for us. I resent videos playing on social media that I have not selected myself, I resent the bombardment of products and trends and I resent the streamlining of tastes under the guise of personalisation. It’s presumptuous and deconstructing.

Everything going digital at first seemed exciting, this was cutting edge and was to make just about all technology better. Some were improved, many became a damn sight worse. Take digital TV for example, 50 channels available, what choice, if you happen to have a military strength aerial on your roof that is, otherwise you have to fork out for satellite and cable.

I define choice as an unnecessary pleasure; with technology it is usually an unnecessary expense.

It isn’t even as if we are capable of appreciating it, the more technology we have in our lives the angrier we become. What should be a pleasure or convenience soon becomes an entitlement and a burden. Are you really happier your phone is smart? Did it really fill a gap in your heart, while creating one in your bank account? I bet within a week you were bored of it yet would be lost without it.

Is owning a Kindle worth contributing to the destruction of the literary industry? Second hand books cost about £1 and carry a tactile pleasure no piece of plastic can compare to …. unless it vibrates.

Is reading uninformed opinion worth replacing professional journalism for? If not then stop reading this you monster!

Technology has become like the financial system in that we serve IT rather than the other way around. Mind you I still have a chip on my shoulder, sometimes I find myself swearing at the fridge when it reminds me the door is open. Clearly I never did get over the death of Pong, when your heart gets broken at such an early age it’s hard trust again.

© Copyright Dean Stephenson 2014

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