I’ve been thinking for a couple of days about whether I could be that person who doesn’t have a mobile phone. I was quite a hold out: didn’t get even a basic Nokia until 2009, and then waited until the 4 before I bought my first smartphone. But I won’t pretend I’m not hopelessly screen addicted by now. I was thinking about this and then I heard the latest edition of the Word podcast, with mention of how Jonathan Richman was invited to be a guest, but his PR declined on his behalf, because Jonathan doesn’t use the internet or own a phone. I can also attest that he doesn’t use amplification when he plays live, and (as Mark Ellen pointed out) doesn’t even put a strap on his acoustic guitar.
Now, that is dedication to the unplugged cause. And it does make you yearn for the days when you had to look things up in books and nobody knew what Thomas Pynchon looks like.
Anyway, all of this has everything and nothing to do with what I’ve been watching on TV.
Trigger Point (ITV) was too stupid, so in desperation I turned to the already-cancelled Next on Disney+. This was originally a Fox show which was canned two episodes into its pandemic-delayed run. Fox have form in the commissioning and then cancelling of decent science fiction shows, so I thought it might be worth a look. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ve already had my intelligence insulted once today.
It stars Mad Men’s John Slattery as an arrogant genius CEO who has been ousted from his Palo Alto company and starts to suspect that an AI project called NEXT has escaped from its air-gapped lab and is in the wild, busily killing people. All the allusions are to Steve Jobs: he even has an estranged daughter.
This is good old sci-fi territory of course, nothing original or new, and is played for its thriller elements. Child in peril, compromised FBI agent (Fernanda Andrade) in pursuit, artificial intelligence programme that can apparently infiltrate every system, from street surveillance cameras to mobile phone networks and cars with autopilot features.
What I like about this kind of narrative is the kind of prepper problem solving. Only drive pre-1983 cars, only use burner phones (and only once), pay with cash etc. The other side of this is that the rogue AI often needs the assistance of easily manipulated or basically evil human agents. So prison breaks and riots are organised, with helpful real-time manipulation of deep fake videos.
Still, it’s better to have people running around and stealing vintage cars than it is to have them sitting in front of computer screens, and I found it quite enjoyable. It also made me want to remove the non-removable battery from my phone and throw it in a vase of water.