Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gadget World

Book illustration by William Heath Robinson

Gadgets can be fascinating things and most of us are surrounded by them, they are part of our lives. I'm typing this post on a gadget, and a host of other gadgets all over the world allow me to publish it. But there is variant of the physical gadget which is just as interesting. 

Sometimes political policies and institutions are best seen as social gadgets. Maybe they aren't quite the same as my laptop, but they are supposedly designed to achieve something, supposedly have some kind of design parameters even if gadget is not the word we tend to use.

To my mind though, it's a good word because it does away with some of the fluff and mystique, allows us to focus on what policies and institutions actually do compared to what they are supposed to do - their design parameters as social gadgets.

For example, the euro isn't so much a currency, as an EU policy gadget. Unfortunately this gadget was launched as a crude prototype long before the bugs had been ironed out – such as fraudulent national accounting. Also, for those who bought the prototype believing it to be the real thing, the running costs of this gadget proving to be somewhat higher than they were led to believe. 

The EU itself is a prototype policy gadget with numerous design faults, few of which seem likely to be corrected, however much field-testing is carried out. We have many decades of testing and performance data, none of which is in the slightest bit encouraging.

Climate models are a mix of technical and policy gadget - but still gadgets which were supposed to predict the climate thirty years and more into the future. Now we find ourselves in that future and to our dismay none of the gadgets has worked, mostly because they were all prototypes made to the same design.

Unfortunately there is no prospect of us getting our money back on climate models, nor is there any prospect of a working version to replace the wonky prototypes any time soon. That’s my prediction anyway.

The Olympic Games is a sporting entertainment gadget designed to promote elitism, global sporting businesses and their sponsors. This gadget works by inducing a heightened sense of nationalism and hero worship among sports fans. Still, at least the Olympics gadget works, although some might see it as a rather expensive way to tart up two weeks every four years.

UK democracy is an old gadget which has been subjected to a number of illicit design changes in recent years. The wheels have been removed and replaced by skids, the engine is now powered by wind and the roles of pilot and navigator have been outsourced to a number of dodgy European contractors. 

The BBC is a gadget for entertaining and misleading folk at their own expense. This has been a very successful gadget, although it now suffers from the limitations of an outmoded design. The Beeb has become rather like a formidable but ageing aunt, relying too much on placid indifference to the real world and the disinclination of loved ones to notice obvious signs of dementia.

Will blogging gadgets make a difference? I don't think so.  


WitteringsfromWitney said...

That, if I may say so, is a superb post AKH - which I will link to!

Demetrius said...

Consider, the Euro as a gadget and something like the old Amstrad computers. Remember them? They were serviceable enough items but with an operating system that did not connect with any others and so unable to do a great many things that othe computers could do.

A K Haart said...

Witterings - thanks!

Demetrius - I do remember the old Amstrad computers. I never bought one, but as you say, connectivity to the big wide world was a problem.

Was Lord Sugar consulted on the Euro? I think we should be told.

Woodsy42 said...

What a fascinating perspective AKH, the social gadget!

Anonymous said...

Interesting analogy. In the case of laptops etc the marketplace gets rid of manufacturers who do not come up to snuff. There is no real marketplace for governments in the developed world, an election merely changes the name on the brand. I suspect the reason is that no-one can govern in a competent manner - whoever takes the job on is buffeted from pillar to post by events and economic forces and self interest.

I reckon the EU was a good idea and one of the missing parts - central financial control - was never going to be agreed to voluntarily. Did not matter much until the PIGS joined. Governments like to preserve the illusion of sovereignty. As for referenda - a bad idea - the masses don't know what is good for them and they are easily manipulated.

As for blogging, Ryan Holiday's book 'Trust Me I'm Lying' is an interesting look at how the new online media and the digital arms of the dead-tree press are opening up to manipulation. I wonder which journos use AK's blog to fish for ideas.

A K Haart said...

Woodsy - yet that's what they are isn't it? They supposedly have a design and a function.

Roger - I'm not so sure about referenda. Yes the public are easily manipulated, but at least there has to be a manipulation process from which people may learn. At the moment we don't even have that.

harryturner said...

What you are saying is something out of the ordinary. The BBC a gadget! Food for thought.