ViewPoint

The digital world makes things easier but its purpose is not benign

Before my dad would let me borrow his car he insisted I first pass my driving test and take a course in basic car mechanics. The sort of get you home type of course. This all seemed quite sensible, even to an 18-year-old teenager. 

On my first date in the car on a  ride out in the country at night the exhaust pipe broke at the manifold and the engine sounded like a jet plane. I managed to limp into a local garage and 2 hours later with a combination of jubilee clips, old coke cans and some quick-drying gas leak cement I had it fixed, I was ecstatic, my date less so.

Because the biggest money-laundering failings in the world are let through by the big banks…they seem to assume that all their customers are potential criminals. We are mostly not.

I can still fix an old car or boat engine but don’t have a clue with a modern or electric car where it seems nothing can be fixed without a computer, a software update and possible a bit of hardware. It’s a tow home now rather than a roadside fix.

The same can be said for much of the modern digital experience. The reality is less appealing than the promise. I am no Luddite and I have yet to smash up a machine that I thought threatened my job. But that may be because they haven’t got a machine that can replace a professional layabout. I am sure Elon Musk is working on a prototype!

In theory, the digital world means almost everything can happen online. Your data is supposedly securely stored and many goods and services can be reached without the need to go to a shop or office. You can’t yet eat or have sex online but both can be ordered there and delivered to your home. And for some can be vicariously enjoyed there. I still prefer the real thing.

The problem with the online digital world is it’s built for a seamless experience to sell you something and tends to fail miserably either by default or design when things don’t go according to plan. The ubiquitous Amazon allows you to buy almost anything online and get it delivered the next day, It mostly works quite well. Cancellations and returns are not too onerous and do not require a PhD in techno-speak to accomplish.

At the other extreme are budget airlines. You can book at any time and from anywhere to get a flight from here to there, wherever here and there may be. Try cancelling. Almost impossible. You will then need to send and hand-deliver a written letter to their office in The Isle of Skye which is open from 12 to 2 on a Tuesday when it’s not closed for lunch. It’s always closed for lunch! As for the FAQs when you do have a problem. There is almost a 100% certainty that your problem is not one of them!

Because the biggest money-laundering failings in the world are let through by the big banks (see the fines on HSBC, Nat West and Santander just to name a few) they seem to assume that all their customers are potential criminals. We are mostly not. 

Now to get access to your money or move it around you need to provide all sorts of digital information and then numeric codes sent to your phone or email. Get one of them wrong and you get locked out. This just happened to me with my Metro App account. To fix it, guess what? I have to go into a store or use the new code they’re posting to me. Not a great solution when I am halfway across France! So much for digital efficiency.

In the digital world people can and do steal your data, as, despite all the firewalls, it isn’t that well protected. Your entire life can be turned into a dystopian experience as criminals steal your identity, spend all your money and leave your digital trail along the way leaving you alone to provide evidence that it wasn’t you. Good luck with that.

A digital literary trail is also a modern problem. All the stupid things you might have said as a juvenile or practically all the inane things that most politicians now say is forever online to catch you out, embarrass and humiliate you. Make a statement online, evidence-based or just floating in vitriol about Gender, Cancellation culture or such sensitive subjects and you will receive a torrent of abuse in return.

The Algorithms of Facebook and other online media platforms do a poor job in editing out malicious lies, falsehoods and prejudicial “other facts”. Without quality editing and fact searching, the preserve of the better parts of the traditional media.

We now live in a real-time digital world where we have tested and seemingly proven the Nazi statement attributed to  Joseph Goebbels that- “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”.  Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Boris Johnson seem to be effective contemporary contributors to this concept.

 The digital world is here to stay. It sometimes makes life easier but its purpose is not benign. Its underlying purpose is to extract all your information and to sell stuff to you and sometimes your data to others. You have been warned.

Ian Morely is the founder of Wentworth Hall, a London-based family office investment and consulting firm

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