All change…and carry on as usual

You can tell I am getting old because of how often this column relies on my reminiscences. I know what kind of impression this may create, but that does not mean I am going to stop! Recently, we have seen the closure of a lot of public houses, but going back to a time when they were the thriving hub of the community there were a couple of archetypes that could be seen in any hostelry. One example would be the older (I will refrain from saying elderly, as they were probably younger than I am now!) couple who sat side by side, watching what was going on and not saying very much to each other. While at the time I couldn’t fully understand their behaviour, I did get the sense that it was a companionable silence and I still think that was the case: there was no frosty disagreement between them nor any disinterest in their 

Fast forward to the present day and I find myself in a hotel lounge, drinking coffee, obviously, and opposite I see a couple with drinks, sitting against a wall, both facing outwards. They would have been about the same age as the archetypes described above and they had the same deportment. Déjà vu? Well, not quite. They were not sitting wrapped in their own thoughts, connected on some cerebral level. Rather, they both had their eyes glued to a smartphone screen and were engrossed to such an extent that the presence of the partner was extraneous. This is not a judgement on my part, simply an observation of the thoughts it triggered. It did make me question whether the modern version of the archetype represented progress.

Returning to the past, when travelling on public transport and waiting for the train or bus, my Dad would pull out a plastic bag from his pocket and read newspaper cuttings of articles that he had not had the time to read at home; the plastic bag was to keep the ink off his fingers! Get on any train or bus today and nearly everyone will be using their phones to message or read 

Newspaper reviews of a recent book by philosopher John Gray introduced me to his views. To paraphrase my interpretation of what I have read: we have no hope for an improved
future but are destined to repeat the mistakes of history. Civilisations rise and fall. One quote says: “Science enables humans to satisfy their needs. It does nothing to change them. They are no different today from what they have always been.”

In April 2018, I described the use of new technology in presentations and how, while it had probably made a small improvement to the transmission of ideas, it had just as readily put extra barriers in the way. Similarly, with everyone on a train or bus reading on their smartphones, we may be hopeful for a more informed population. Unfortunately, as described here in May 2017, technology is just as likely to support confirmation bias, fortify existing political views and prejudices and restrict general awareness, ie act as an echo chamber. It is how we use technology that determines whether it is a force for good or bad. I am sure you can all think of examples where a particular technology has both benefits and drawbacks.

To show that I am nothing if not consistent, I wrote in September 2017 that it was important to change the processes we use in order to harvest the potential benefits of technology. But, as can be seen from the above, this is something we are not very efficient at implementing. John Gray believes that there is progress in knowledge and that the growth of knowledge is real. When I reminisce about NDT, I can see that, over my career, there has been a substantial increase in the knowledge base, but I can also see that we have made much less progress in adapting behaviours and processes to take advantage of this increase in knowledge and of new 

If you agree or disagree, please submit your views and comments to either myself or the editor. Next month I hope to provide evidence to support these ramblings.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

Comments by members

This forum post has no comments, be the first to leave a comment.

Submit your comment

You need to log in to submit a Comment. Please click here to log in or register.

<< Back