Interesting 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).
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.
Secondly, “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: Health, Technology