Living with remote control in a press-button universe

When I was growing up, my buddy Sammy Nkoana and I marvelled at "clever" inventions such as the ballpoint pen and the wheelbarrow.

Sammy insisted he would have invented the wheelbarrow had someone not beaten him to it. And when television was introduced, we thought that was the ultimate. What could possibly be more ingenious than watching someone read the news while they were so many kilometres away?

In fact, when I was much younger, a group of my chums and I scorned a schoolmate who told us there were "radios" in the US that made it possible for listeners to see the broadcasters live on air. We told him to go pee somewhere.

Not that many years later it was there in our homes.

A couple of years after TV was introduced, I was in a house with a group of journalists preparing for a union meeting.

Our host, who had just bought a large colour television set, waited until the room was full. When he was sure he had everyone's attention, he took out a black contraption, pointed it at the screen, pressed a button and the TV went silent.

Wow! That was magic.

Some 13 years or so ago, I parked my sister's brand new Mazda 626 at a shopping centre. As I returned to the car, I pressed the remote and the doors went "cluck" as they unlocked. A group of boys standing next to the vehicle burst into spontaneous applause.

I remember all these innovations and pity today's generation, the so-called born-frees.

Nothing challenges or even surprises them. The Internet, remote controls, cellphones seem so passe.

They look at navigation systems and say "so what"?

Surely that can't be good for the mind? Where everything is available at the mere push of a button, the mind ceases to be challenged. Why think if the computer can do it all for you?

Why read a book if you can loll on a sofa and see the whole story unfold on the screen?

At our peril, we disregard the wise adage that reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. But then one even wonders why people still need to go to school if all the information is available on the web at the mere press of a button. Scary.

I pray that God spares me another 100 or so years just so I can see where all this is going.

We are now so clever we have the capacity to wipe out all life in the universe in one fell swoop.

Something can go wrong, and it is going to go wrong, trust me. It might not be in my lifetime or yours, but watch this world 100 years from now.