SARAH VINE: Smart motorways, smart phones, why are they all so dumb?

SARAH VINE: Smart motorways, smart phones, smart homes… why are they all so dumb?

We live in the age of smart things. Smartphones, smart motorways, smart homes, smart meters, ‘smart’ cars, smart TVs. And yet, have you noticed how almost anything that carries the prefix ‘smart’ somehow ends up being anything but?

Take so-called smart motorways. Stupidest idea since diet water. Quite where it came from is unclear, but the fact remains that a few years ago all the motorways that used to work perfectly OK — give or take the odd traffic jam — started becoming nigh on impassable.

With no discernible warning or obvious justification, some satanic sub-department of Highways England decided that all our dim-witted old motorways had to be upgraded to shiny new ‘smart’ ones. Meaning that all of a sudden a journey that might have taken an hour took at least twice that because of all the roadworks.

And when they were finished, the new smart motorways had no hard shoulders, meaning broken-down cars had nowhere safe to wait; 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the past five years.

With no discernible warning or obvious justification, some satanic sub-department of Highways England decided that all our dim-witted old motorways had to be upgraded to shiny new ‘smart’ ones. Pictured: the M1 four-lane smart motorway in West Yorkshire 

No one bothered to ask us, the motorists, what we thought of this idea, probably because it would have been met with a resounding boot.

But dumb motorways are typical of all this new smartness that seems to be coming our way. Typical in that they render a tried-and-tested system stupidly complex for no other purpose than to make the lives of nosy government departments and big business easier.

In the case of the poor beleaguered motorist, the long-term strategy behind smart motorways is to facilitate the introduction of driverless — or, you guessed it, smart — cars whose every move will be tracked by a central database.

Ostensibly, this will lead to fewer accidents and safer, more fuel-efficient travelling.

But you and I know it will just mean even more delay and frustration. In the meantime, the authorities will be able to track where we go, while the big data firms will be able to harvest even more details about our lives to use for whatever nefarious means they see fit. Ditto smartphones. So clever, in fact, that they make us do stupid things like step out in front of a car while texting, or walk into a lamppost while chatting on FaceTime.

Only this week, researchers in Canada published a study identifying texting or browsing while walking as a leading cause of injury among young people.

Before all this smart tech entered our lives, before we allowed our fridges to tell us what to eat and our radios what to listen to and our TVs what to watch; before we surrendered all autonomy to the gods of ‘smart’ things, human beings were already pretty damn smart.

We wrote books and poetry, created breathtaking works of art, built palaces and temples that still stand to this day, sailed oceans and conquered space.

I’m not for one second suggesting that technology hasn’t made our lives much easier in many ways. Simply that the smarter the tech gets, the stupider we humans seem to become. I don’t see how anyone could consider that progress.

More pointless Bafta virtue-signalling: guests were served a vegan meal as part of the Academy’s commitment to becoming more carbon neutral. 

What a lot of nonsense, when half the people there will have flown in by private jet! And while we’re here: can we stop describing outfits that have been worn more than once as ‘recycled’? 

Katie Holmes steps out looking very lovely in a cardigan, and fashionistas declare cardis ‘the new sexy’. On the delectable Ms Holmes, perhaps. On yours truly, very much more of a Miss Marple vibe.

Fact is, you can stick any old thing on a beautiful woman and it will look great (as Marilyn Monroe once proved when she wore a potato sack as a dress).

It doesn’t make it the Next Big Thing.

Katie Holmes (pictured) steps out looking very lovely in a cardigan, and fashionistas declare cardis ‘the new sexy’

Pole-dancing? Oh no, J-Lo! 

I yield to no one in my admiration for J-Lo who, at 50, is living proof that age is no obstacle to bossing it in an industry where most women are considered over the hill at 30. 

Yet her performance at the Super Bowl, gravity-defying on so many levels, felt slightly as though it was executed through gritted teeth — or at least with the help of a good deal of Voltarol gel. 

All that bottom-slapping and booty-shaking, not to mention the gyrations around the now ubiquitous stripper pole, felt just a little bit, well, demeaning for someone of her stature. Especially given the presence of her young daughter, Emme. 

I’m the last person to advocate growing old gracefully; but pole-dancing in front of your 11-year-old? Not a great look. 

I yield to no one in my admiration for J-Lo (pictured) who, at 50, is living proof that age is no obstacle to bossing it in an industry where most women are considered over the hill at 30

Please, not Prince William, too. We’ve only just got rid of hand-wringing Harry, and now his brother’s at it, railing about the lack of diversity at the Baftas.

Yes, of course it’s important. Yes, of course Something Must Be Done. But is this really William’s job?

I mean, it’s not as though the issue hasn’t had enough coverage, what with every luvvie from here to Tinseltown vying to out-woke one another. Why can’t the royals just turn up and smile and wave like they used to?

Still, one thing we should be grateful for: at least when Kate and William do the Baftas, passing studio execs don’t have to worry about him pitching for his wife to do a voiceover.

Should we stop calling animals pets? The president of animal rights organisation PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, thinks so. 

Apparently it’s a patronising term, comparable to the treatment of women before feminism. 

As butler, chef, cleaner-upper, walker, hairdresser, manicurist and general dogsbody to my three ‘pets’, I can honestly say they’ve never complained. But then, unlike Ms Newkirk, they are evidently not barking. 

‘Perfect’ birth myth 

Britain is one of the most advanced nations on the planet, but when it comes to childbirth, we may as well be living in the Dark Ages.

According to a new investigation, increasing numbers of women are being denied pain relief during labour because of a ‘cult of natural birth’. Six NHS trusts have been identified as complicit, and figures show the proportion of women receiving pain medication such as epidurals has fallen from 67 per cent to 61 per cent in the past decade.

I’ve never understood why such a weirdly macho culture exists around childbirth, but it undoubtedly does. And I’m afraid there is no question in my mind that the NCT — the National Childbirth Trust — is to blame.

From my own experience, it was drummed into me that to give birth without pain relief was somehow virtuous, and that anything else was highly suspect.

We now live in a world when a surgeon can operate on a 21-week-old foetus in the womb to cure spina bifida — and yet the NCT treats epidurals as though they were some form of black magic.

It’s time it — and those who push the myth of the ‘perfect’ birth — were dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Intolerance for hatred 

Much of the focus on the case of Sudesh Amman, the Streatham terrorist, has understandably centred on him being let out of jail early, despite the fact the police considered him to be a serious threat.

Indeed, thank goodness they did: had they not had him under close surveillance, who knows what further atrocities he might have committed.

But his case also raises another important question about his time in prison. It has been pointed out, including by his own mother, that he was ‘associating with extremist prisoners’ while in Belmarsh.

Which raises a vital question: why does our prison system a) fail to stamp out the expression of extremist views and b) allow any form of ‘association’ between those who harbour them? The answer, of course, is ‘cultural sensitivity’.

That same cultural sensitivity led to countless young girls being groomed and abused by Muslim men in Rotherham and beyond and which, in British jails, means that Muslim inmates are treated differently to secular ones.

It’s one of the great unspoken truths of our penal system, and one which no politician has the courage to highlight for fear of being branded Islamophobic.

As long as our prison system allows the twisted views of men such as Amman to take root under the banner of religious tolerance, there can be no hope of rehabilitation, and our streets will never truly be safe from men like him.

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