Good enough really isn’t good enough for me

Blaming technology - skype, iPods and more - for sliding down the quality slope

A generation has grown up never having had the pleasure of a crystal clear line.

A generation has grown up never having had the pleasure of a crystal clear line.

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 09:44

Technology, we generally accept, improves and advances the quality of life. “Vorsprung durch Technik” (advancement through technology), as our friends at Audi put it.

But hang on. In many ways that directly touch on our daily lives, technology’s life-lifting reputation is all a big con.

Let’s start with phone calls, where our expectations have sunk as our tolerance has risen. At some point, the world collectively decided that call quality didn’t really matter as long as you could make out most of the words. No one is bothered these days about fuzzy lines that drop in and out, issues that would once have had us complaining to our phone provider. You could be talking for five minutes before you realised you had Angela Merkel on the blower and not your mother. OK, so you thought it odd that mum suddenly seemed interested in European Central Bank interest rates, but still.

No cost

In the name of convenience and low cost – in Skype to Skype calls, no cost, which is a persuasive price point – we just don’t care. It wasn’t always thus.

Peak telephony in Ireland happened in the early to mid-1990s, when the old, analogue system was replaced by digital exchanges, giving Ireland one of the best phone networks in the world. Then, as mobiles and internet telephony encroached, we ditched landlines. In 2012, fewer than 50 per cent of us had fixed-line phones (many of those, mediocre voice over internet ones), while most people have mobile phones. An entire generation has grown up never having had the pleasure of a crystal clear line, where you don’t need to say ‘what?’ several times, or wait for the person to phone back on a better connection.

Then, there’s music, which has been skiing briskly down the slope of quality decline for ages. I blame the iPod. No, wait: let’s snarl collectively at the real villain, memorably portrayed in The Social Network, Sean Parker. When he launched Napster – now largely forgotten, except by those of us of a certain age, as the free music download site that disrupted a whole industry – Parker discovered that millions of people would digitise (or ‘rip’) their music collections and make them available to others.

But in doing so, the sound quality went over a cliff. Back then, most of us had slow internet connections and might wait 10 minutes to download a three-minute song. Ripping the song at lower quality meant the file was smaller and travelled out of or into our PCs at a more gratifying rate.

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