Last night I dreamt the tablet was dead. The entire industry – the jobs, the billions of dollars spent on R&D, the network of subsidiary industries that suckle from its teat like a litter of helpless electronic piglets – was rendered instantly, completely, hopelessly obsolete.
Microsoft had abandoned the Surface (its tablet, rather than the face of the planet, although rather a lot of people would welcome this) and its boss Steve Ballmer was dousing his factories in petrol, howling at the moon as the flames danced around him, which I imagine is exactly the kind of thing he would enjoy. Meanwhile, Apple and Samsung were mawkishly shaking hands, muttering vague platitudes and wondering what all the fuss had been about.
The vision was, of course, inspired by my mother. She has a new iPad. And she can make it work. It’s terrifying, like watching one of the chimpanzees from 2001: A Space Odyssey pick up a bone for the first time, feel the weight of it in its simian fingers, and regard its brother’s head with a new sense of purpose.
The last time I tried to get her to use my iPad, she reacted like I had passed her a motion-sensitive atomic bomb that would wipe out northern England if she tilted it in the wrong direction. Even when it was safely resting in its dock, she would eye it with suspicion, like it was a wise but fundamentally malevolent Rumpelstiltskin figure, teasing her with riddles she couldn’t possibly hope to comprehend.
Now she demonstrates what is, if not a mastery, then at least a level of competence that, only weeks ago, seemed about as plausible as a liquorice alsatian declaring itself king of the moon. Her friends are at it too. They all own iPads. In less than three years, Apple has made technology friendly, and safe, and inclusive. Which means, for this generation, it’s over.
Technology isn’t an inclusive club. It moves at a blistering pace, accelerating away from anyone whose brain has been sufficiently filled with the detritus accumulated through the very act of being alive for a significant period of time. It’s a young man’s game. My mother comes from a generation which is supposed to be terrified of technology. Now me and her are in the same club. We even had a conversation over Skype, each of us barking into our iPads, while a new generation of young people were busy injecting information directly into their eyeballs. Probably. I have no idea, I’m too old.
My young nephew (my young, fictional, nephew, who doesn’t exist except as a handy prop to represent a younger generation), probably looks at people like me, inconceivably old, stumbling towards our inevitable deaths (a concept his young, fictional mind is yet to fully grasp), in the same way I’d look at a Victorian child chasing a wooden hoop down a pier at a thriving seaside town; a relic of the past, a poignant reminder of how things used to be.
“This isn’t even really about technology,” you might say. “It’s just a spurious event in your life, filling up space on the page, like soil falling onto the coffin of someone I didn't even really like.” You may be right. But while you were busy feeling angry and confused about the time you’ve spent reading this, you’ve become obsolete too. Humans 2.0 are in charge now. And you can bet they don’t want to listen to your whining.