I have a mobile phone.
Well whoopee do!
Not earth shattering news in much of the world I know. ‘Mobiles’, ‘Cell phones’ or whatever else you want to call them are ubiquitous.
Except they are not.
I possess the cheapest (£10) most basic text capable, non Smart phone I could find, no contract and I use it a couple of times a month maximum. The reason I have it and use it is because scammers, cheats, liars, crooks and downright thieves make it necessary to have some sort of secondary check on my identity to avoid the banks, various services and online retailers giving my cash to the above scum.
You can probably sense a certain reluctance to engage in the technical ‘advancement’ of society in the above statements.
Well yes, and then again, most definitely no.
I was way ahead of the technical curve for many years, decades even. I had my own computer c1983. I pulled it to pieces, put various other bits in it to enhance its performance, programmed it with Basic and learned about how the whole idea of digital data worked. I worked with computers for the next decade or so, using them to store and manipulate data, communicate with people and streamline analysis. I worked with various programming languages and whilst not a programmer, knew a lot more about how the things worked than most users. I was online with my own computer c1996 and I pulled it apart and put bits in and out and tweaked the performance. I hung on to the myriad operating system enhancements and was very aware of the possibilities of computer vulnerabilities and security issues. I still use computers daily.
I never bought a mobile until recently.
Work made me carry one, which they owned and gave me.
And right there is one of the reasons I was quietly confident in the nineties that the whole idea of mobile phones was a flash in the pan, a fad like CB radio. Who the hell voluntarily makes themselves available to their boss 24/7? And pays for the privilege of being an indentured wage slave?
Another one is probably related to my ASD. Or possibly my generally curmudgeonly nature. I don’t like being available to people at their convenience at all. One of the most liberating moments of my life was when I realised you didn’t have to answer that ringing phone. You chose whether you were available or not. I know people who have some sort of panic attack if a phone rings more than two or three times in a room without being answered. And of course a mobile makes you available all the time.
The good thing from that point of view is that few people actually ring each other to talk any more. Older people may text, or email. Young people instagram, tweet, facebook, post on TikTok, perhaps Zoom or Team (though these are probably for sad old people around 30). There are newer things out there and old media and platforms that hang on, Snapchat anyone? I read a piece the other day by a young media type who was describing an online dating experience where her prospective beau made the crass error of asking if they could continue the discussion on Snapchat.. This twenty year old swiped left asap. Who knows what systems will attract millions and which will be consigned to media limbo, to wander round after a brief burst of enthusiasm, lost souls in the phantom zone?
Is this a burst of creativity in the human journey? Or is it a side road to hell?
Probably neither. TikTok (remember Vine?) et al may produce entertaining moments and help spark creative processes but I’m not sure how much they will sustain them.
Is all that a reason to spend around a thousand pounds a year on a plastic device that doubles as a slave collar? A machine that demands constant attention for the pay off of cats falling into waste baskets? Yes we can pay for things with it, at the risk of having our identity, bank details and cash taken from us remotely. But how much does it anaesthetise us to reality?
I watch people, not just young people, who are constantly observing their phone, on trains, buses, waiting for something, walking somewhere. Do they not realise they are missing life itself?
I remember being asked in the 1990s about some earth shattering moment in a television soap opera the night before. I hadn’t watched it. As they described the background set up and convoluted denouement, I realised my own life was far more interesting and entertaining. That was not because I was such a superstar. I wasn’t. But ASD or not, I was far more engaged in the real world around me than those who avoided it through a monastic commitment to following a made up electronic life.
Odd thing for a writer to say?
Possibly, but a book can be all consuming as you consume it,. But then you emerge from that world, altered perhaps by its profundity, or maybe not, but you emerge and engage with real people and circumstances.
The electronic tsunami of distracting drivel that comes through ‘smart’ ‘phones’ does not allow emergence into reality.
I was an early adopter of computer technology because it allowed me to do things I couldn’t do before, and allowed me to do things I already, did faster and better. That allowed me more time to engage in the real, analogue world around me. We’ve allowed those who want to use technology to distort and destroy reality to gain control of it. And worse we are willingly paying for the privilege of our enslavement.
I’m not a luddite. But we need to regain control of what technology does for us and make sure it works for us not the other way round.