We live in complicated times. And complicated is almost always a very bad thing.
I have the world’s most complicated boiler, and so later I added the world’s most complicated programmer to try and understand it. They’re no longer on speaking terms. One or the other fails a couple of times a week at least.
I was asking my younger daughter over Christmas how her new relationship was going. “It’s complicated,” she said. So I asked her to explain, and do you know what? She wasn’t wrong.
I’m also the owner of the world’s most complicated TV channel-changer, and I don’t have a single app that doesn’t make the task I want to perform more complicated than it was before. I have a car clock so complicated to change, it’s still on Greek time from the summer before last, and a kitchen stable door so complicated to separate, the instructions in 5-point type take up one whole pane of the bloody thing.
The nature of oil market geopolitics is so complicated, I have so far counted nine separate motivations in play. Add the complicated politics of Ukraine and stir in the spin being perpetrated by four different regional interests, and you get complications that complicate things so much it requires a complicated computer model to sort out the relative hierarchy of complication.
Did you know that the average mobile phone user employs seven functions regularly, but 3G phones usually have in excess of sixty? And with age, that seven drops quickly to any three-from-four: calls, text, mail, photos. The order for me is photos, calls, texts. I don’t do mobile mail: if I did, the phone would ping on average seventy times a day. The other reason is that the process for aligning mail pickup was so complicated, it’s only a matter of time before Aston University offers a PhD in Complication Studies with Specific Reference to Sony Xperias.
Not only has the once simple lotech process of doing stuff been replaced by self-indulgent, infantile complexity: the hitech stuff we were just getting used to is regularly ‘updated’ every six months at least in order to render it more complicated.
For instance, the process of paying for your parking at Bordeaux Airport, fitting a child seat in the back of a Peugeot 308 SW, programming a Candy dishwasher, transferring mobile phone shots to a laptop, downloading a pdf, sending money by electronic transfer and dealing with landline phone messages are things that – just in the last three months – have become less functionally efficient and more complicated. And the three key words there – less functionally efficient – are central to my fearful frustration with a world that is being created by every psychographic type from neoliberal sociopath to political schemer.
The first line of defence for those defending complexity is to say that their equipment is ‘sophisticated’. This is like saying that a washing line is aboriginal. It’s bollocks: a washing line needs no programming, and on a windy day above 12 degrees centigrade will dry clothes more efficiently (with easier ironing) than any tumble-dryer in existence….free. The Pennsylvanian Amish Community rose to be the richest per head in America on that principle. Think on it.
The second line is ‘user error’. “You’re just a dopey old bloke with grey hair I mean for God’s sake look at you, you’re past it, you hate progress”. Funny how being a senior citizen leaves you open to the kind of baseless insult you could be driven from the stockade for levelling at a woman or an ethnic minority.
And the third is, surprise surprise, “we must all embrace change”. I love that one, it’s a belter. Ripple dissolve to Heimy the Deli owner just off the Kurfürstendamm in Autumn 1934. Heimy is constantly being advised to calm down, and embrace change: the Nazis are all talk, he is told. “Talk, schmalk,” he answers grumpily, “let me tell you, this Hitler is a schlemiel. No good will come of it.”
The idea that all change is for the better is the sort of crap New Labour and Camerlot idiots have been trying to tell us about everything from privatisation and deregulation to fractional reserve banking and globalism since the turn of the century. Yet the truth is that every one of those four changes has made life more complicated….but not one of them has been of the slightest benefit to those on average to poor incomes. Do you really know what QE is and how it works? Do you really know why Zirp was necessary? Do you really understand the rational for financial Big Bang? No, you don’t – any more than I do: you see, it’s complicated.
Far too often, complication is really obfuscation…a smoke-screen if you will. Equally often, it is just one more way to extract more telecoms money from us, justify ovens that cost $7000, and “explain” why we need a new thing just because the old things build quality was complicated aka shoddy. Some complication is the direct result of fluffy social ideas and moral relativism. But all of it comes at an unacceptably high price.
For once, the medical profession is right. When they use the plural noun “complications” it means “bad shit just happened”. My late father – an enthusiastic exponent of technology – used to say “If you can’t explain something in one simple sentence, it’s a bad idea”. Dad developed a high temperature one afternoon at the age of 91 – and then complications. He died the following morning.
Yesterday at The Slog: Christmas Day in the Workhouse, 2029