Friday, 25 November 2016

I'm feeling prestalgic for a technological future full of huge, red and blue bulbous things that look like kids' toys

A new media boss of mine at the BBC used to start every talk by mentioning "prestalgia"...

...i.e. a longing for things that hadn't yet been invented. It was a time when private sector digital media snake-oil salesmen were dismissing the applications poor sods like us were actually building and launching there and then as somehow already defunct. One day, they claimed, the digital TV applications these saps at the BBC and Sky were creating will be dead and buried, overtaken by fabulously fast and efficient content services delivered to TV screens via broadband networks. And, of course, up to a point, they were right...
...Here at Grønmark Towers, we watch recent TV programmes via the internet on Sky Catch-Up and Samsung's Smart TV hub, catch old films on Netflix and Sky whenever we want to, without having had to record them first, and enjoy YouTube videos which we've lined up by clicking the "watch later" option online. It's magic, and it makes the red-button interactive TV offering we were building back in the late '90s (and which we delivered in the early Noughties) look decidedly primitive. But that was magic in its day, millions used (and still use) the red button, and (I fondly imagine) we prepared a whole generation of viewers for the "connected" iPlayer future. What was so annoying about those conference-hopping new media futurologist spivs  - most of whom were untarnished by any actual real-world achievements - was that they made our bosses (who knew sod-all about this strange new world) dissatisfied with what we were delivering, by infecting them with prestalgia.
I wonder if the technological pioneers of the twenties and thirties felt the same way about the popular science magazines of their day. Did they groan when they saw those splendidly vibrant covers featuring semi-deranged "inventions" that hadn't been invented and, in many cases, never would be? Did their bosses call them into their offices, fling the latest magazine down on the desk and angrily demand to know why the hell they hadn't come up with a similarly swell idea? Or were they all caught up in the creative excitement of an era that was just waiting for another world war to happen along to really shake things up, technical development-wise?
Another thing that struck me as I enjoyed these splendid, bonkers illustrations was how formulaic they were. Someone must have figured out early on that what would appeal to males of a technical or scientific bent would be masses of red with splashes of blue, tons of shininess, lots of big balls - or, at least, enormous bulbous machines - a suggestion of exhilarating speed, and more than a hint of violence:
Little did they know that, as far as technology was concerned, we'd mainly end up living in a world of skinny black and silver squares, cubes and rectangles, with nary a big ball ball in sight. Mind you, I'd quite fancy one of these:
Of course,  whoever dreamt up this one should have been shot - oh, hang on... 

No comments:

Post a Comment