Relying on technology

First published on the Golf Monthly website on Wednesday 30th June 2010

The advancing pace of technology is incredible. It’s only 20 years since a mobile or “cell” phone looked like a comms device from a Vietnam War film and top golfers were playing with woods actually made from wood.

Yesterday, the assistant pro at Banchory showed me an app on his iPhone that allows him to film a pupil’s swing then analyse it with, pretty much, all the moveable lines and stop-frame slow motion technology you’d see on a state-of-the-art swing analysis system. And, while he’s watching his student practise, he can quickly pay his electricity bill and check the scores at Wimbledon. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

But, I wonder, what skills have we lost as we begin to rely ever more on technology to make previously difficult tasks almost effortless?

I’m contemplating this because I woke this morning to find my internet connection down. My first reaction was utter panic. How will I do any work? How will I know what time I’m playing in the Medal this afternoon? How will I survive without the to chuckle at over lunch?

While eating breakfast I began to think how ludicrous my reliance on the internet has become. When someone asks me what I do for a living I say I’m a writer. I don’t describe myself as a professional internet surfer. I’m perfectly capable of writing without access to the internet, as I’m attempting to prove here. Our golf club has only had an online booking system for 18 months. Before that you either had to phone the pro shop for your time or simply remember what time you booked in the first place. I’m pretty sure The Guardian started life as a newspaper and, last time I looked, it was still for sale in paper form at our local shop. I’ll just nip down and buy one. While there I’ll probably have a friendly chat with the shopkeeper and I might even pick up some nice bread for my lunch.

There are other technologies we’ve become reliant on at the expense of previously standard human skills. The mobile phone means nobody makes any firm plans or commitments. If you were meeting someone pre-mobile you had to have a definite venue and time. “I’ll meet you on the third step to the left of the front door of the town hall at 4.38pm.” And you’d both be there. Now you get, “I might see you in town about 4. I’ll call you if I make it.” It’s made people unreliable.

Sat-Nav is something I’m now beholden to. I don’t think I could even find my way to my parents’ house without it. Last month Dan Davies gave me a lift from Woburn to Heathrow Airport. Dan is deputy editor of Esquire magazine and was reviewing a new car over the weekend. It had absolutely every mod con you could think of, including a bamboozling Sat-Nav system. We thought we’d set it correctly so were surprised when it told us to turn down a narrow country lane rather than follow signs for the M1.

Any rational human would have ignored the bundle of plastic and wires and trusted their instincts. But, we both thought Sat-Nav must be right so took the turning. The journey to Heathrow ended up an hour longer than it should have been because we realised, too late, the machine was set to “Ignore major roads.” We’ve lost the ability to navigate at even the most basic level.

It’s a similar story on the golf course. Many of us can no longer contemplate a shot unless we know the exact yardage from our ball to the front, middle and back of the green as well as the precise pin position. Others wouldn’t venture onto the course without a motorised cart transporting a gargantuan bag packed to the gunnels with every piece of golf equipment currently known to man.

A couple of weeks ago I played with a friend who has, for a number of years, played to between a scratch and a two handicap. He arrived on the first tee with a pencil bag containing – a driver, a half set of bladed irons, a sand-wedge and a putter. Not once on the way round did he ponder a yardage. He played by sight alone and knocked it, nonchalantly, round in one-over-par.

I think too many of us tie ourselves in knots over the complexities of golf and forget that, in essence, it should be a simple game. So, since that round, I’ve been trying to play more by feel and instinct and have suffered less from paralysis by analysis.

Yes, knowing the right yardage is useful and having the correct equipment is very helpful, but even if you get those things spot-on, you’re still a long way from completing the fundamental objective of golf – to put the ball in the hole. All the technology in the world can’t do that for you so, at some point, you’re going to have to trust yourself to do it.


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