the mouse paradox


Hailing from a time of typewriters and telephone boxes, I sometimes find the rapid advances in technology just a teeny bit terrifying.

Take the mouse – that iconic emblem of digital connectedness.

You mightn’t guess by looking at us, but we are the same age.

Only now we are about to celebrate the half centenary, one of us is on the brink of extinction as interface between binary and biological blurs.

Doug Englebart, who produced the first prototype of the mouse – a wooden shell covering two metal wheels at a time the PC was still a pipe dream – only just predeceased his invention.

News of his death last Thursday (July 4) at age 88 was announced via tweet from The Computer History Museum.

Englebart, a genius himself, was said to have been driven by the belief that innovations that catapulted us into the information age should be used to bolster collective human intellect – not to change TV channels with the blink of an eye.

He believed co-evolution between technology and human philosophy would resolve the world’s really important problems.

But seeing toddlers intuitively swipe a screen or tap an app makes me wonder if development hasn’t actually been arrested innovation, that while we might just end up with long froggy fingers, our minds are destined to remain in the primordial swamp.

My old Dad tells a story about Australia’s first commercial radio-operated international facsimile.

As a young telegraphist/facsimile operator working for Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) he remembers a hulking great machine in Queen Street HQ.

Specifically he recalls, at the end of the war, the transmission of the first images after the Allies’ liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Those images – printed on a machine so big and important that it occupied its own floor – helped alert the world to the Nazis’ grossest crimes and prosecute those responsible.

Today that rudimentary technology, refined to the size of a pinhead, has become like cellular cyanide in some cultures.

Last week news emerged of two Pakistani sisters aged 15 and 16 shot dead in an apparent honour killing.

Noor Basra and Noor Sheza offended male family members by gleefully running through a sudden downpour outside their family home in the ultra conservative far north.

A video of their spontaneous rain dance circulated on the ubiquitous mobile phone sealed their fate.

It shows we might eliminate the mouse, but we remain just a click away from the trap.


One thought on “the mouse paradox

  1. I was at an art launch recently where there were a whole bunch of kids present. I always like it at a launch when kids dissolve the arty stuffiness by running amok; crawling under tables, running between the legs of guests. Instead, these 5 to 10 year-olds sat lined up against a wall, heads bowed over screens, swiping and pressing, not a word, not a laugh, not a yelp. Another kind of cellular cyanide. Cellular vallium or morphine perhaps? Great column, Sarah.

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