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Hold on a moment, I want some new technology that lasts

[ 2010-06-08 15:30]     字号 [] [] []  
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By Richard Morrison

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As John Updike once sourly but accurately observed, these days we are all conditioned to accept newness, whatever it costs.[1] Very soon, no doubt, Apple’s tablet will seem as an essential tool of modern living to us as the electric trouser-press did to our grandparents.[2] At least, it will until someone manufactures an even smarter, thinner and more essential tablet. Which, if recent history is any guide, will be in approximately six months’ time.

And that’s the bewildering[3] thing, isn’t it? Turn your back for a moment and you find that every electronic item in your possession is as dated as a mildewed tombstone.[4] Which wouldn’t be so bad in itself. Why should you care if people snigger because you use a mobile phone that actually predates Barack Obama’s presidency? [5]

But try getting the thing repaired when it goes wrong. It’s like walking into a pub and asking for a Dubonnet and lemonade.[6] You will be made to feel like some sort of time-traveller from the 1970s. “Don’t you want an upgrade?” you will be asked, incredulously.[7] “It’s not worth repairing that old thing.”

And so the mountain of dumped electrical debris grows.[8] A few years ago a satirically-minded sculptor constructed a gigantic statue made from the exact number of electronic goods that an average British person was estimated to discard in a lifetime.[9] It weighed three tons, stood 7ft high, and included five fridges, eight toasters, six microwaves, seven PCs, six TVs, 12 kettles, seven vacuum cleaners and 35 mobile phones.[10]

Even then, the calculation seemed on the conservative[11] side. Only 35 mobiles? In a lifetime? As every parent knows, any teenager will get through at least five phones each year. One will drown in the pocket of a pair of jeans chucked[12] in the washing machine. One will be lent to a girlfriend who has moved to Ipswich. One will be stolen during PE[13]. One will be left on a bus. And one will be accidentally flushed down the loo of a dodgy club in Camden Town.[14]

The enormous number of electronic items now regularly chucked out by British families is clearly one big problem. But this ceaseless discarding of gadgets has other consequences.[15] It contributes greatly, I think, to the uneasy feeling that modern life is whizzing[16] by faster than we can keep up. By the time I’ve learnt how to use a gadget it’s already broken, lost or redundant[17]. I’ve lost count of the number of TV remote-control thingies that I’ve bought, mislaid and replaced without working out what most of the buttons did.[18]

And the technology changes so bewilderingly fast—not least in the media world. Was it only 30 years ago that I saw my great predecessor William Mann (the music critic of The Times who famously declared the Beatles to be the finest songwriters since Schubert) sitting in the newspaper’s canteen after a concert and writing his review—with a fountain-pen![19] —for that night’s edition? And was it less than years ago that I spotted a high-powered businessman friend towing what seemed to be either a large crate or a small nuclear bomb on wheels through a railway station.[20] “Good grief[21],” I exclaimed. “What have you got in there? Your money or your wife?”

“Neither,” he replied, with the smug look of a man who knows he’s at the cutting-edge[22] of technology, no matter how ridiculous he looks. “This is what everyone will have soon—even you. It’s called a mobile telephone.”

I don’t lament[23] the pace of change. On the contrary, I’m dazzled by those high-tech designers who can somehow fit a camera, music-player, computer, phone and satellite navigation system into a plastic slab no bigger than a packet of fags.[24] Or invent a vacuum cleaner such as the one recently showed to me that can suck fluff straight into a dustbin via a system of pipes in your house walls.[25] (All you have to do is rebuild your entire home.) If the geniuses who dreamt up that could also find a way to keep the Tube[26] running on the first snowy day of winter, they would be making real progress for humanity.

What I do regret, however, is the built-in instant obsolescence[27] of so many household items. My parents bought a wooden wireless[28] in 1947, the year they were married. If 1973, the year I went to university, it was still pumping out[29] Family Favourites and The World at One. It sat in the kitchen like an old friend—which, in a way, it was. It certainly spoke to us more than we spoke to each other on some grumpy[30] mornings.

True, it had idiosyncrasies[31]. You had to know exactly how to tickle its knobs or tweak its dials to conjure discernible speech and music from the crackle.[32] But that was its mystique[33]. When my mum replaced it with a new-style radio that could also play cassette-tapes (gosh, remember them?) I felt a real sense of loss.

Such is the frenetic turnover of 21st-century technology that there’s no time to forge emotional bonds. Even if Apple’s new wonder-toys turn out to be the most significant tablets since the big ones that Moses dragged down the mountain[34], I very much doubt that they will resist the here-today-gone-tomorrow trend.


1. 厄普代克曾酸溜溜但却不乏卓识地讲到,现代人都习惯了接受新事物,且不管代价几何。John Updike: 约翰•厄普代克(1932—2009),美国作家,作品风格独特,富于地方色彩,代表作有长篇小说《兔子,跑吧》等。

2. Apple’s tablet: 苹果公司出品的平板电脑,于2010年1月推出,tablet原意为“写字板”;electric trouser-press: 熨裤子的电熨烫机。

3. bewildering: 令人困惑的。

4. mildewed: 发霉的;tombstone: 墓碑。

5. snigger: 嘲笑,窃笑;predate: 早于……的;presidency: 总统的职务(任期)。

6. Dubonnet: 杜本内茴香酒,始创于1846年;lemonade: 柠檬汽水。

7. upgrade: 升级;incredulously: 表示怀疑地。

8. dumped: 废弃的;debris: 垃圾,碎片。

9. satirically-minded: 意在嘲讽的;discard: 丢弃。

10. toaster: 烤面包机;PC: = personal computer,个人电脑,指台式机;vacuum cleaner: 真空吸尘器。

11. conservative: 保守的,指保守估计。

12. chuck: 扔,抛。

13. PE: = physical education,体育课。

14. flush: 冲洗(尤指抽水马桶);loo: <英俚> 厕所;dodgy club: 此处应指摇滚乐酒吧,该词源自Dodgy Club(英国摇滚乐队Dodgy建立的酒吧,乐队常在该酒吧中演唱)。

15. ceaseless: 不停的;gadget: 小装置,小机件。

16. whiz: 飕飕地移动,飞驰。

17. redundant: 多余的。

18. remote-control: 遥控器;thingy: = thingummy,[用以指不知其名或暂时忘记其名的人或事物]那个人,那个东西;mislay: 放错。

19. predecessor: 前辈;Schubert: 舒伯特(1797—1828),奥地利作曲家;canteen: 食堂;fountain-pen: 钢笔。

20. high-powered: 精力充沛的;tow: 拖;crate: 装货箱。

21. good grief: (表示诧异或恐惧)哎呀!天哪!

22. smug: 沾沾自喜的;cutting-edge: 尖端,前沿。

23. lament: 为……哀悼,悲伤。

24. slab: 薄片;fag: <口> 香烟。

25. fluff:(毛毯等落下的)绒毛;dustbin: 垃圾桶。

26. Tube: <英> 地铁。

27. built-in instant obsolescence: 指(家庭用品)固有的会很快落伍的属性。

28. wireless: 无线电收音机。

29. pump out: 喷出,此处指“播放(节目)”。

30. grumpy: 坏脾气的。

31. idiosyncrasy: 特色,特性。

32. 你得知道怎么摁键子,拨旋钮,以便从刺啦声中找到能听出模样儿的讲话或音乐。

33. mystique: 神秘性。

34. the big ones that Moses dragged down the mountain: 指《圣经•旧约》提及的在西奈山上由上帝亲授摩西的“十条诫命”石板。