As a child, I would tinker around with electronics kits, creating such immensely useful gadgets as a machine that could detect whether something was wet or not. This early childhood ingenuity would later flourish when, aged only 21, I built my own air-conditioner (as pictured below) after finding out that one's first sharehouse rental is much less climate-controlled than the family home.
And just the other day, I marvelled at my friend's magic flip wallet. If you place a loose ten dollar note inside this wallet and close and re-open the device, the note by some unknown process becomes secured within the wallet behind two elastic straps. "Sorcery!!", you cry, to which I respond with a knowing half-grin—technology, my friend, technology.
But I think I often give the wrong impression of my technological leanings because my well-rounded appreciation for human innovation is tempered with prudent scepticism, involving critical thinking about the real effects and drawbacks of technological developments.
Which leads me to today's contention: has the mobile phone has turned us into a nation of unpunctual, selfish dilly-dalliers and do-nothings?
Two weeks ago, I heard that a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft would be conducting a sunset flare drop over Port Phillip Bay. This promised to be an absolutely spectacular occasion. A Hercules performing this manoeuvre creates what are known as "angel flares" (pictured below), which are so named because looking at angel flares make you so happy it is like you have died and ascended into heaven.
As the momentous evening arrived, a like-minded friend and I checked the official flaredrop map and staked our positions on top of Point Ormond, Elwood. We had pizza, ice cream, and a panoramic view of the bay. Low on the horizon, the glowing red sun broke through a line of cloud, sending out a shower of colour across the bay. Everything was perfect.
All of a sudden, about twenty minutes from the scheduled start, a lone fellow rose from his seat. "For everyone that's here waiting for the flaredrop", he cried, "it's been cancelled!" The crowd murmured with indignation. Cancelled? Surely not! The Air Force had been spruiking this event all week! The conditions were perfect!
Confirmation soon began to flood in from other sources. There would be no flaredrop. The crowd's indignation turned to anger. Photographers that had travelled all the way from country Victoria began to vent their frustrations in front of any who would listen. Children began to sob as they were told that taxpayer-funded hellfire would not be unleashed from the skies that night.
As for me and my friend, we were less than impressed. Only five minutes ago, we were two enterprising young men who had plotted the ideal location to watch as incendiary devices were fired from a military aircraft for our enjoyment. Now, we were just two fellas sitting on a picnic rug licking ice creams in the glow of the setting sun.
When I got home, I pulled up the Air Force's official Twitter feed. Sure enough, the pin had been pulled on the event at short notice—in fact, when the Hercules was already airborne!
I began to think: could the Air Force have pulled off this cancellation without Twitter?
While the Air Force would later claim that they had "sent someone out" to bring the bad news to the crowds along the foreshore (an unlikely claim, given that the Air Force would have had to transport this person from A to B via mechanical means, a task which they had already demonstrated their ineptitude for), I had a sneaking suspicious that if this were 1954, the year that the first Hercules took to the skies, this flaredrop would have gone ahead even with the plane spewing smoke from two engines and a crateload of escaped snakes on board—because to cancel at such a late stage would've been a practical impossibility!
These days, however, mobile telephony has given us carte blanche to cancel or be late for all manner of events, with little or no consequences attaching to this inherent thoughtlessness. Never before in human history have we had such ability to keep someone else waiting at no cost to ourselves (minus, of course, the cost of a "I'm late, too bad for you!" message).
But back in "the day", the consequences of such lateness were far more severe. A tale, if I may, from close to home...
In August of 1860, the explorers Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills set out from Melbourne on an expedition to map a route to the north coast of Australia, a return journey of around 6,500 kilometres. The mood upon departure was bullish, with the trip expected to be a great success. This was despite the expedition's wagon train breaking down at Essendon, 5 kilometres into the journey (or 0.077% of the total planned distance), possibly from the weight of carrying such survival necessities as a solid cedar-and-oak dining table and a Chinese musical gong.
At Cooper Creek, near the Queensland-South Australia border, the expedition split into two. Burke, Wills, and a couple of others decided to take advantage of the searing December heat by carrying on northwards into the desert at an increased pace, while the remaining members of the expedition were ordered to set up a long-term camp and wait four months for Burke and Wills' return.
True to their orders, the men at base camp waited for four months. Eventually, having waited an additional five days, they gave up Burke and Wills for dead, packed up camp, and departed back for Melbourne on the morning of 21 April 1861.
LATER THAT DAY, starving, exhausted, and close to death, Burke and Wills (now six days late, tsk tsk) returned to the abandoned camp. If this were 2013, a quick text to the rest of the group ("sry, delayed due 2 horribly inhospitable terrain will brb 6 days") would've ensured that base camp sat around and played Angry Birds for a extra day while the heroic explorers returned.
But as it was, Burke and Wills never caught up with the rest of their party. Lost in the outback, they survived for a couple of months thanks to the aid of some helpful aborigines—helpful, that is, up until the point that Burke attempted to shoot them, at which point the aborigines quickly departed and left Burke and Wills to unceremoniously perish.
You know, part of me secretly longs for the return of those Darwinian times, where survival of the promptest reigned supreme.