I want to discuss a negative phenomenon that I personally experience, and know others do too. It’s not a topic that is rarely discussed, in fact it’s pretty hot as far as discussion points go these days so I don’t claim to be mega observant or really clever by bringing it up. It is simply that of the exponential growth of technology, particularly with it becoming more mobile. I believe it has the ability not only to impinge on your freedom, but to cripple you with choice. There are new concerns in our age that are not only stupid, but sometimes a bit frightening.
I’ll begin anecdotally, because it’s easy…
Staying in on a sunny Friday evening feels rubbish. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives I’m sure, but there is a distinct feeling that comes about when after a week or two of rain the sun finally shows its face on a beautifully colourful Friday afternoon, and you’re indoors. Nevertheless, here I sit with nothing stronger than a herbal tea in front of a computer screen, where so many of us spend an increasing amount of time anyway. Sigh. The reason for my staying in tonight is last weekend’s frivolities, which were hefty enough to assume that if he were there, Keith Moon would’ve had a bonnie time.
On evenings such as this I sometimes make a pact with myself: Don’t do anything until somebody contacts YOU. Do not ask for it by sending a group text just to see what ‘people are up to’, because the odds are, you’ll end up drunk thanks to you’re long term affliction; being terrified of missing out. I check my fancy phone compulsively on nights like this. When I see that there are no messages I get disappointed, despite the original pact. So why am I unable to leave my precious screens alone? Being contactable via text, phone, email, facebook and twitter means that you are perpetually checking things, even when you’ve got no reason to do so. My girlfriend explicitly says that she couldn’t own an iPhone or similar thing, simply because it’s mere presence would mean that she’d want to look at it all day.
Having myriad choices of how to spend your time seems like a desirable thing, of course it does. So why at age 29 am I often terrified, completely fucking stupefied by choice? Many a time I’ve thought I would like to watch a film, then looked at the online rental or streaming services available to me and ended up just getting in a really bad mood. Technology just seems to have intensified my fear of missing out because there is simply stuff going on ALL THE TIME! Even as I write this article I’m compelled to check my phone or minimize this window to resume the glazed look in my eyes when presented with my browser and it’s 100,000 tabs because you never know, I could forget about something I was looking at earlier with disastrous consequences. Or at least that is how it can seem sometimes even though in reality it’s pointless and utterly banal.
People seem to spend an increasing amount of time farting about doing nothing online, a fact we are all aware of. You can easily lose a day reading tidbits, never finishing articles or just staring at YouTube video’s link after link after link, a YouTube hole if you will, a black hole of YouTube. It is a newer phenomenon still to have multiple screens around you. I first came across it living with an old housemate a few years back. I’d never seen it before but she used to sit watching the telly with her laptop open in the living room, gob open, dribble flowing and nothing between the ears. I marveled at her ability to do something on her computer as well as digest the complex narratives of Hollyoaks. Then I realised she was sort of doing neither, just getting thicker and using more electricity. Who’d have thought that when people used to worry about TV ruining people’s lives it was just the beginning of the problem?
Dinner parties now often descend into a room full of people staring at their screens playing a version of pictionary, a simple game that was invented ages ago. This new one requires no verbal communication and subjects you to adverts every 2 minutes, whoopie. They’re seemingly blinded by their backlit displays, which are just reproducing something people have been able to do since paper was invented…PAPER!! And don’t tell me it would be a waste of paper to play it the traditional way, I’m willing to bet the amount of fossil fuel required to make and run a single iPhone might just outweigh the amount of paper you’ll throw away in a whole lifetime, or several lifetimes for that matter.
Music seems to have suffered the most. Now people keep tens of gigabytes of MP3’s on external hard drives and spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to catalogue it properly or recover files that are not working or lost. People are more interested in whether things ‘sync’ properly than who wrote the fucking songs. Buying a CD as an adolescent meant getting home from town shaking with excitement, putting it in the hi-fi (also a thing of the past) and meticulously reading the sleeve notes while it got its first play. Now people rarely know what half the shit even is that resides in their music libraries, they just collect it all like a bunch compulsive hoarders.
It’s become merely about the medium, and less and less about the content. Go into HMV these days and you’ll see walls of expensive headphones, the CD’s are buried somewhere in the back because people don’t buy them. They are however perfectly happy to spend £250 on some enormous headphones endorsed by Dr Dre, seems a bit skewed to me. I bet he’s made more money from his headphones than his music (I don’t really bet that, it’s probably not true I’m just making a point). Pubs are full of people arguing about whether their iPhone is better than an HTC, or Mac OS better than Windows, and probably even whether Netflix is better than Lovefilm or something. I could not care less and I’d rather hear a discussion about the stylistic virtues of the animated version of Watership Down, or how Brian Eno once mic’d up a wasp in a studio for that unique buzz.
Going back to the original point is both serious and personal: When my computer is a TV, cinema, typewriter, video phone, editing suite, music production studio and hi-fi, I still seem to spend most of my time doing completely nothing. I have immense trouble focusing on the task at hand, even if said task is paying a bill, so I’m acutely aware of my hypocrisy here. Instead of creating and editing music or video (which I do for both pleasure and work) I seem to scour ebay for stuff I didn’t know I was interested in, or check facebook just in case I’m missing something my mates are up to.
I digress, I’m just going to watch someone I’ve never met do a cover of the last of the summer wine theme tune on pan pipes.
The future’s bright…because it’s made up of LED’s, but it’s also a bit dystopian.