PACMAN TO GAMEBOY
a matter of days after the blackout in the northwest of America
when London suffered a similar fate and half the city was suddenly
thrown into darkness. (Caused by a 1000amp fuse being installed
instread of a 5000amp- it turns out.) About the same time a young
computer hack introduced a blaster worm in Microsofts operating
system that created havoc amongst many computer networks throughout
the world causing shutdowns and other strange effects to its
users. Is there a connection? Are catastrophic mishaps of this nature
turning into part of our daily life? Is modern technology getting
out of hand to such extent that man has lost control of his most
valued inventions? Has Hal finally taken over? It reminded me of
something that happened some thirty years ago on the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Skinner? This is the night operator. I have an alarm on the switchboard
coming from the telephone cable terminal. Weve lost all our international
circuits. I looked at my watch. It was four-thirty in the morning.
I knew something was seriously wrong. On arrival, not only did I find
that there had been a power cut but that we were also completely off
the air. The emergency power supply had not only failed but smoke
was pouring out of one of the control panels. The system had only been
in operation a few months and was considered to be fool proof and of
the latest seventies technology. Yet it had literally blown up!
Although computer controlled systems were not yet around, transistor
circuits were and my West Indian Hal had done a bonkers and just shut
itself down. You may think, so what. All kinds of mishaps of this nature
have been occurring for years ever since the Industrial Revolution.
The difference in this particular case was that none of the boffin design
engineers had allowed for a by-pass fall back to bring the cable back
into service in case of control panel failure. In laymans terms,
there was no way of taking the output from the public power supply to
the input of the cable system without going through Hal.
The solution was obvious. With the help of a couple of local technicians,
a big pair of wire cutters and some half-inch power cable we joined
the two together.
The reason this old episode came to mind was because it was the first
time that I appreciated how vulnerable we humans are to technical failure
and at the same time tend to take for granted everyday modern gizmos
without thinking of their infallibility. The bloody cables backup
power system was not meant to fail. The trouble is that it has become
progressively worse to the extent that todays generations are
beginning to forget about the basics and why the modern world functions
How many of you out there remember the first ever video game with that
funny little cookie that chomped its way through a
sort of Hampton Court maze eating whatever it found in its path? Or
was it the other simpler version in the form of a cybernetic ping-pong
game developed for use with your lounge TV set? It wasnt all that
long ago was it? Nearly (30 years actually)
Well, weve come a long way from those earlier computer games.
Todays kids of all ages can buy or rent or download all sorts
of visual enjoyment that is now incorporated in super-multi-mega-memory
gadgetry ranging from mobile phones to arcade cubicles simulating the
real thing. In a way, it is just another sector of the modern IT technology
industry that has invaded our consumer world. It is, however changing
the minds and mentality of our present and future young generations.
Children, particularly in the developed world are perhaps losing their
ability to think for themselves. Their brains are turning, literally
into computer hardware and are functioning according to whatever software
is portrayed on the screen. The question why, as Malcolm
Muggeridge used to say implying inquisitiveness has been erased, possibly
It may be part of the old fart syndrome of reminiscing of days gone
by but years ago, children of my generation spent their time taking
things apart to see what was inside them. How many of you can remember
that the most important toy we possessed was a four inch screwdriver!
A pair of pliers and a hammer were added goodies. I asked the son of
a friend of mine the other day, as he was seated with his Gameboy shooting
away at aliens or smashing a car along a Formula I racetrack if he knew
how the damn thing worked. He ignored me. Do you know what makes
those little men on the screen move around? I asked. Sure.
I just twirl this button. Watch, he answered. No. I mean
whats inside that little toy you have and what makes it all come
alive? He paused for a second and then said, batteries.
He ignored me and went on about his business. I was thinking mainly
about the science of electronics, electrical and mechanical power that
went into the design and subsequent manufacturing process of this fiendish
plaything. I guess I was expecting too much.
The point is that as we move into the XXI century we are becoming more
and more reliant on computer technology and at the same time slowly
are moving away from understanding or acquiring the basic knowledge
of how things work. It may sound simplistic but it is nevertheless the
apparent trend that modern society is adopting, as it takes for granted
the very essence of our new way of life. Not only that, but as equipment
breaks down, be it a computer, a refrigerator or mobile phone, our consumer
world has turned us into a junk yard provider and rather than play a
have-a-go-Joe repair man, we chuck the dodo away and buy
a new one. Does it really matter? Of course it does. As we move further
into the future it becomes imperative that the next generations do not
forget what makes everything tick and why things go wrong. We must demand
that our educators return to the blackboard and teach children to think
and take an interest in the reason for mans superiority over machine.
Teach them not to take Earth for granted and that computers are small
fry compared to nature and its conservation. But what about the
There are millions of children who have no idea what a Play Station
or Pokemon is. Their parents are too busy scraping the land for a living
whilst their governments are probably involved in civil strife or couldnt
care less. Show them a Nokia phone as it sounds off Greensleeves
during an incoming call and theyll most likely run like hell and
hide under their mothers skirts. At the same time, these same
kids couldnt care less about Londons blackout or my cable
going phut. They are far too preoccupied with their next bowl of soup,
or rice or whatever comes their way just to keep them alive. Yet one
thing is certain. Given time and full bellies, these same kids if educated
correctly could very well rectify this horrendous trend that our consumer
world has set and return humanity back to evaluating humanity. Teach
them to teach the modern kid that knowing how land is cultivated or
rainwater contained is far more important than the number of points
you gain in shooting down midgets from out of space. The rich world
is saturated and bored whilst the poor are hungry for food and knowledge,
especially sound knowledge.
© James Skinner. September 2003.
Note: One of the fastest growing areas for mobile phone technology is
the 'Third' world where it is cheaper to install cell technology than
lay cables. It is likely that those kids will come out from behind their
mother's skirts James and beat the kids scores on any of these games.
In the future none of us will know how things work and everyone will
be equal. Ed.)
James Skinner on the roots of extremism
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