If I look out of the back window of my house I can see the local telephone exchange; a large, squat brick structure, three or four stories high, pierced by rectangular windows, running vertically, exposing its guts to us. In the middle of residential London, the exchange, through which the borough’s telecommunications pulse, is grandiosely silent; no security guards patrol the corridors and staircases at night, armed with torches, I’m yet to see a human enter or leave it’s premises. It just sits there mindlessly, allowing us to communicate with each other.
If I look out the front window of my house I can see a security camera, metronomically ticking back-and-forth, it’s electronic-eye keeping watch over us. It is hard to fathom anyone sitting at some remote desk, observing what the camera sees on a computer screen, their own eye trained to spot the unusual or possibly illegal amongst the everyday comings and going of a building.
Last week I video-called my friend in New York. To my continual amazement, the sort of technological infrastructure that even ten years ago was the preserve of Star Trek, is now commonplace, de rigueur, an everyday part of every day. The video signal from the camera built into my laptop is transmitted wirelessly, magically, into my internet router which is connected into the telephone socket of the wall (and probably feeds through the telephone exchange behind the house) and then, in New York, this signal is transformed into a real-time moving image of myself on my friends laptop. We don’t bat an eyelid. Space-age technology is here, and it’s boring. On a dull and wet afternoon, we scan the contours of the globe aimlessly, looking for nothing in particular; the fantasy of being able to see any spot on the world via webcams and Google’s Street View is quickly subsumed by habit into ordinariness. No doubt the same process will occur when we get jetpacks and hover boards and own sunglasses that can shoot laser-beams; eventually even space travel will become as mind numbing as going on a car journey, flicking through the radio dial in the command module trying to locate programmes now millennia old.