Chips with everything ​

Aug 13 | 2021

The headline in my newspaper laconically announced ‘World Shortage of Chips’.

Tony Allen - And finally‘Blimey!’ I thought, ‘they’ll be running out of ham and eggs next. Whatever is the world coming to?’ I can tell you that I was mightily relieved when, after reading on, I found that they were actually referring to silicone chips.

Things are happening so fast in our bubbling cauldron of a world. Take toothbrushes for example, they played a very simple but effective role in our lives. Every morning we used to move our arm up and down and every evening we did too; if we remembered.

Not anymore! We now have electronic toothbrushes, and like washing machines and cars and goodness knows what else, they are programmed by microprocessors and, as we all know, these rely upon silicone chips to function. Furthermore, we are now surrounded by battalions of minicomputers which we seem to need. It is quite possible that in due course, we as a civilisation might well be taken over by mutant ovens or fridges. I’m blowing hot and cold over this prospect already.

What does worry me somewhat is the fact that we are tending to store up future problems for ourselves. It is almost fair to say that we are being ‘hoist by our own petard’. Our sheer inventiveness is becoming our downfall.

Silicon chips were invented in 1961 by two Americans, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, paving the way for modern computerisation. Before that time, the world seemed to function reasonably well. I can even remember some of that world myself, and it wasn’t too bad.

Of course, it’s very easy to look back on the past with rose tinted glasses and even in terms of the ‘pandemic’ people are now looking back on the early days with a sense of nostalgia and, with our inventiveness expanding exponentially, the past seems less and less further away.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that previous generations were much more able to look after themselves and to adapt to what life had to throw at them.

Loss of self-sufficiency is the probable result of living in our modern society. Try repairing your motor vehicle if something goes wrong. It’s impossible unless you have access to the appropriate computer.

Gone are the days when you would come out of the house early in the morning only to find that your next-door neighbour was having problems starting his car. Then to utter those magic words, “Let me have a look at it.” Then to fiddle around in the engine without really knowing what the heck you are doing and then for the engine to start to nobody’s greater surprise than your own. Then for your neighbour to tell everybody what a brilliant mechanic you are and for you to modestly concur with this fairy story accompanied by a modest shake of the head!

For my latest birthday one of the family bought me one of those speaker things which you can talk to and it replies in a somewhat patronising female voice (my next comment was deleted at the behest of Mrs Allen). I find that I regularly keep asking my new toy what the time is, even though I wear a watch. There’s no doubt about it that I’ve got to stop using this fascinating piece of equipment as it’s definitely becoming a habit and I am losing my closely valued independence.

The biggest source of annoyance to me is the computerised telephone answering machine that keeps you waiting for ever whilst it plays music that has obviously been composed by the most boring person you have ever come across. This now applies to our doctor’s surgery. How ill are you? Press 1 for not very / Press 2 for quite ill / Press 3 for very ill / The doctor will phone you back: ‘Have a nice day, we value your call’ – sure you do!

So maybe the shortage of silicon chips is a blessing in disguise for us and maybe it will lead to a slowing down in the advance of sentient computerisation. I say slowing down because where Homo sapiens are concerned, necessity is the mother of invention; so a suitable solution is sure to follow. In the meantime, maybe we will be able to claw back a little of our declining self-sufficiency. So remember, don’t forget to clean your teeth tonight before you go to bed and just try to be careful, one day your toothbrush may rule the world.