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Friday / May 24.
HomemilastwordThe Last Word: An Afternoon with Socrates

The Last Word: An Afternoon with Socrates

The new iPhone 4S made its global debut in Australia a week after the passing of its creator Steve Jobs with queues snaking past tributes outside Apple stores. Sales records for the new iPhone were broken within 24 hours with the company benefiting more from the outpouring of grief for the man, than his creation.

The iPhone, as with all smart phones with their focus on web-based ‘apps’, places an enormous amount of information and power at our fingertips. It’s so easy now to go through the day without communicating to another soul. The process of gathering information, researching, discussing, learning and creating great new concepts with friends and colleagues is at risk of being lost.

Corning – that company once known for its daggy but useful, unbreakable Pyrex dishes – is taking smart technology one step further. It has just re-branded itself and released a high-tech video ‘A Day Made of Glass’ that shows us our future with its “incredible intuitive, application-enabled glass products”.

Apparently, with Corning in our lives, we’ll have all the information we need at our fingertips and won’t need to talk to colleagues, family or friends much at all. With glass walls and desk, we’ll be able to video conference, demonstrate new design concepts in full moving colour, catch a movie and research the latest scientific findings on Keratoconus – all at once – without leaving home. There’s nothing much left to think about, talk about – or do.

I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates…

Watching this Corning video, as brilliant and extraordinary as it was, I was left feeling cold. There was something missing. Was it the digitised music that repeated itself endlessly? The sterile environments or the forced look of relaxation and happiness on the characters faces?

Finally, I worked it out. In this futuristic world, a world that could very easily become a reality in our lifetime, the protagonists weren’t actually sharing ideas – or connecting with each other at all. There was no need to. All that power and information was at their fingertips.

In the process of trying to find solutions to problems and new ways to communicate, we’re creating a world where we will no longer need to talk face-to-face with each other, have in-depth conversations or connect on a raw, emotional level. In making life simpler, have we created a world of greater isolation, less interdependence on each other and more dependence on technology?

We can lose ourselves in our latest gadget or, we can just switch if off – at least once in a while – and reconnect with friends, family and colleagues. Because surely, it’s only by sharing ideas and bantering our points of view with each other that we can learn, find creative solutions and achieve a sense of our collective potential.

In the year he launched the iPod, the forerunner to the iPhone, Steve Jobs told Newsweek “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates”. That’s a conversation worth having.