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Friday, February 13, 2009

The Crackberry

Picture of Blackberry deviceInteresting little piece in the paper today. The Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, said that those made redundant in the city may find that they come to welcome the release from being slaves to their Blackberry, feeling compelled to be available and answer emails at all times of day & night. “One of the great implications of this turbulence is to reboot our sense of what a truly flourishing human life consists of. The ‘Crackberry’ culture is dangerously addictive, and switching off from it is notoriously difficult”.

Blackberry devices have been dubbed ‘Crackberries’ because users find themselves addicted to answering calls and checking messages, even late at night or at weekends, no matter where they are or the occasion. I don’t have a Blackberry, although I have been thinking that my computer and I are spending too much time together. The stuff that I see and read is getting weirder!

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the internet is one of the greatest things to come out of the twentieth century, but technological change brings social change, and the medium through which we see the world is a strangely distorting mirror. The more so if you’re a Crackhead…or even a Blackhead… :-)

Does anyone remember reading Marshall McLuhan back in the sixties? I was a great fan as I finished my schooling, and I was fascinated by the concepts behind the well known slogans of “The Global Village” and “The medium is the message”. The latter was modified in a slim Penguin paperback, crammed with images and words, to “The Medium is the Massage” (allegedly a misprint which McLuhan decided to keep as a perfect encapsulation of his view of the effect of the medium - print, radio, TV etc - on us, and our society).

Picture of book cover 'The Medium is the Massage'The concept of a “Global Village” created by new technology shrinking the world by the speed of communication became seen as a bit of a hippy dippy idea, and gradually fell out of favour. After all, most people in the world did not have access to this technology, and it was argued that the new technology was more divisive than uniting, with power in the hands of the technically literate. Globalisation was for big corporations, not the ordinary joe, and corporate and state owned television and radio seemed to justify that view. Poor old McLuhan got shoved into the sidings.

The coming of the internet, along with Blackberries, raspberries and whatever, has changed all that, and suddenly McLuhan has become fashionable again. As the cost of internet access falls, and accessibility spreads, are we truly entering the idealised world of the ‘Global Village’? McLuhan asserts that speed and immediacy of modern communication will compel us to become more involved with one another, and be more aware of our global responsibilities. Has this happened?

Sadly, I think the answer is still a resounding “No”. I would argue that the world is in fact increasingly divided, and that the divisions are likely to become deeper.

There are two reasons for my pessimism.

Firstly, most of the world is not connected to the internet. Most people cannot read and write, and their priorities are rather more pressing than looking for the nearest wi-fi point. But what of the ever growing numbers who ARE online. Surely they are becoming part of one giant, enlightened global community? Well, no they’re not. Far from creating a virtual global village, the world is filled with thousands of tiny virtual mediaeval villages, each with its own inbred insularity, superstition, fear and occasional witch hunt.

The fact is, as I was taught many years ago, “people like people like themselves”. In the past we had to rub along with our neighbours, whoever they might happen to be. Now we can go online and find people more to our liking – people like ourselves.

As each group thus formed bonds, it becomes inward looking, each member reinforcing the beliefs of the others, and any dissenter is turned on as a heretic. In looking inward, all the information and debate worldwide is ignored, except for those snippets that reinforce the beliefs of this one little village. I am sure we have all seen examples of the “wicker man” mentality manifest itself when an outsider questions the orthodoxy of the group in otherwise moderate and rational forums and websites.

The boon of mass communication does not necessarily bring enlightenment, and often the reverse. The greater the availability of information that questions or threatens our beliefs, the more likely we are to seek out those who do not question us, and exclude and attack any threat. Thus social breakdown, not unity, is the result.

1960's family watching tvSecondly, “The medium is the message”. Now we get to the nub. Forget the content (in McLuhan’s view that is secondary). It is the medium itself that affects us, both personally and socially. For example, the TV delivers gruesome pictures from Gaza directly to our homes. Sure, we are affected by these images, but it is the medium (TV) that we react to not the content – its immediacy and the fact that it primarily engages the visual sense. Image after image pour into our homes, the content being rendered ever more banal by the medium of its delivery. The same story in print demands a different, more analytical, reaction. The story delivered by an eye witness talking to us face to face is different again, and more affecting. And that is the point. The story, the content, is exactly the same. It is the medium, rather than the content, that affects us and dictates our reactions.

And so it is with the internet. And especially the crackberry. Immediacy and obsession have made robotic clones of otherwise free thinking individuals. The compulsion to respond – instantly – is producing a society devoid of reflection, self awareness and empathy.

There's more. Let’s take Facebook, Twitter etc.. social networking or an exercise in social isolation? Being able to follow Stephen Fry on Twitter and know that the dear old queen is stuck in a lift somewhere may be entertaining – but you’ve never met the chap and probably never will. He doesn’t even know that you exist. The social ‘networking’ value seems real, but it isn’t. Even closer to home its more like stalking in my view, with the stalkee unhealthily complicit with the stalker (a bit like the murderee in Martin Amis’ ‘London Fields’).

So for all the huge social benefits (we are organizing our annual pre TGO Challenge daunder via email for example) and the tremendous richness of knowledge, commerce and, yes, friendship at our fingertips, there is a darker side. Human intimacy stripped of all richness of expression, tone and touch.

Of course, that doesn’t include any of us! We’re just playing silly bloggers.

No, stop it. Britney Spears isn't really following you on Twitter ..... please believe me....

Labels: ,

11 Comments:

Blogger Phreerunner said...

Nice one Phil...thought provoking...
...is that your real name...?
...have we ever met...?
...would we have done but for this interblognet thingy...?
...whose hat have I been wearing...?
Must go now, the Raspberry's bleeping and my Blackhead hurts....

February 13, 2009 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger MartinB said...

Re: The Crackberry Culture, and your thought provoking piece:
I'm with you, Phil, when it comes to things like Twittering with Stephen Fry.
What IS brilliant about the blogging is that you can blog about an event/activity, and the (perhaps famous or more hopefully 'interesting') people involved may enjoy exchanges with you.
We recently encountered this when the posting about a theatrical performance was spotted by the cast, and we also enjoyed surprise exchanges last summer with the author of the GTA guide book.
I think it's important to try to strike a balance though, and regard the electronic contacts as an extension of one's existing circle of friends and a stimulus to lead a richer life...perhaps!

February 14, 2009 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Hi Martin

I fully agree with your comments. Being online allows a free exchange of ideas (like now!)and it can indeed open up new opportunities and friendships. As never before.

It was just that the bishop's comment set me off thinking about the darker side of the new technology. As you may have guessed, I find media and their influence fascinating, and sometimes ever so slightly disturbing.

It is a question of balance, as you say. Achieving it is the trick.

February 14, 2009 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Alan Sloman said...

As a horrified "victim" of the Crackberry Culture, in the very real sense of the word, this piece has set me thinking.

On the one hand I agree: it can be an isolationist hammer of a weapon in a failing relationship. On the other, if the relationship is poor in the first place - as was mine & Lynnie's, then all it does is drive a deeper and stronger wedge into the yawning cracks.

I hate the bloody things - the incessant rudeness of the interruptions to normal social discourse as the recipient of the message feels compelled to put their "real-life, real time companion" on hold whilst they respond instantly to the urgent pressing need to answer some bloody inane request about some minor irrelevance.

I would cheerfully stamp on every single one of the sodding things and tell their owners to get a real life.

Is there bitterness in this comment? Surely not....

February 16, 2009 at 9:55 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Understand your point, Alan. And whilst stamping - how about mobile phones too! (not mine and yours, obviously). Why is it that when I am talking to someone and their phone rings, they always think that the person phoning them is so much more important/interesting/sexy than me - and answer it instead of switching it off?

Grrrrrr.....

Funny coincidence, but I was in my dad's garage today, picking through a few decades of assorted junk, and right on top of a stack of books Miss W spotted my old copy of 'Understanding Media: the extensions of man'. So I'm now re-reading it 40 years on. One line stands out,

"The telephone is an irresistible intruder in time or place..."

As is the Blackberry...

February 17, 2009 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger mike knipe said...

I blow a raspberry to anybody who makes me play gooseberry to their blackberries.

Unfortunately, if I had one, I'd be guilty too. I can't help but answer a ringing phone. I specially like to converse with people who are in our area and would like to give me a free estimate for something I already have. Usually at tea time.

I wouldnt be able to resist reading emails....

February 17, 2009 at 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As the cost of internet access falls, and accessibility spreads, are we truly entering the idealised world of the ‘Global Village’? ... Has this happened? ... I think the answer is still a resounding “No”. I would argue that the world is in fact increasingly divided, and that the divisions are likely to become deeper. ... Most people cannot read and write, and their priorities are rather more pressing than looking for the nearest wi-fi point."

I don't think you can blame the www for this division. If anything the www just highlights this division. It's not a division between those who have www and those who don't, it's a division between those who have $ and those who don't.


"But what of the ever growing numbers who ARE online. Surely they are becoming part of one giant, enlightened global community? Well, no they’re not. [?] Far from creating a virtual global village, the world is filled with thousands of tiny virtual mediaeval villages, each with its own inbred insularity, superstition, fear and occasional witch hunt."

Whereas before it was filled with thousands of REAL villages, each with it's own etc etc. The difference is that a hundred years ago my only contact would have been with the neighbouring villages, now I can pick and choose from them all. And I would say people do pick and choose - Google's extroadinary success is based on people looking for more information, not less.


"The fact is, as I was taught many years ago, “people like people like themselves”."

Of course they do. Perhaps that's why the words "like" and "like" are so alike. (See what I did there.)


"In the past we had to rub along with our neighbours, whoever they might happen to be. Now we can go online and find people more to our liking – people like ourselves."

But surely that's a good thing! What's so good about "rub along with"? I grew up in a village where other youths liked to shoot at each other and put the cat's head in a vice. The good old days are very over-rated.


"As each group thus formed bonds, it becomes inward looking, each member reinforcing the beliefs of the others, and any dissenter is turned on as a heretic. In looking inward, all the information and debate worldwide is ignored, except for those snippets that reinforce the beliefs of this one little village. I am sure we have all seen examples of the “wicker man” mentality manifest itself when an outsider questions the orthodoxy of the group in otherwise moderate and rational forums and websites."

The Challenge forum? :-) But seriously, what's changed? Your talking about human behaviour rather than the www. At least you can now instantly leave a forum and look elsewhere. Previously it was a case of join the club or your on your own, and the tragedy was that people would rather be a part of anything than be excluded. The physical barriers between groups certainly reinforced insularity, the www is breaking those barriers down.


"The greater the availability of information that questions or threatens our beliefs, the more likely we are to seek out those who do not question us, and exclude and attack any threat. Thus social breakdown, not unity, is the result."

An increase in info is bound to come with some info we don't like. If the info we don't like is true then maybe it's a good thing if that the belief group breaks down. Look how increasing global warming info has slowly broken down the anti-GW camp.


Yes, anything as revolutionary is bound to bring bad as well as good, but the www has brought far more good than bad.

John

February 22, 2009 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Hi John

Thanks for a well considered analysis. Reading it I feared that I might have come across as a wild eyed Luddite. That certainly wasn’t the intention. To quote myself, “I think that the internet is one of the greatest things to come out of the twentieth century...”

That newspaper piece just made me think about the changes that new media bring - and the disparity between the vision of the idealists and reality. The reality has a serious downside, which I touched on because I think it is often disregarded or even unnoticed. That said, I agree that the www has brought us more good than bad.

A new mass medium inevitably changes us and our society. If the invention of the printing press brought about ‘literate’ man, and ‘literal’ thought processes, what will new media make of us?

February 23, 2009 at 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hopefully it will take us to a even better place.

I had realised that you'd embraced the www Phil - after all you've got a blog and website, I was really just saying that I don't think the www has created the woes you think it has, it's just given people anther environment to do what people do.

I'll quote you again - "....there is a darker side. Human intimacy stripped of all richness of expression, tone and touch."

I say it's always been there, and all the web is doing is making it visible to us.

JH

February 25, 2009 at 8:07 AM  
OpenID peewiglet said...

I'm a bit late here, but what a wonderful post. It's probably the most thoughtful and well-expressed (and thought-provoking) thing I've ever read on the net.

I won't attempt to dissect it. I'll simply say that I wholeheartedly agree.

Thanks for posting it ♥

February 11, 2010 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Thanks for the kind words, PW :)

February 11, 2010 at 8:46 PM  

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