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Our ancestors never knew real stress. Yes, they had to hunt down their dinner. Sure, they followed vast herds of hairy quadrupeds before someone clever invented agriculture. But their daily struggles were petty concerns compared with ours. For one thing, they didn’t have the internet.
Here’s the ‘don’t get me wrong’ bit – the internet is wonderful, perhaps the greatest invention by any clever person/s in the history of making new stuff. You know, apart from the brilliant insights by Mr Wheel and Mrs Flushing Toilet. The internet is one of those tools that we will, as a species, carry into the future in our collective backpack, crucial for our survival and ability to combat whatever comes next.
But the problem is we have a problem. We are infophiliacs. Data junkies. We use the internet and its quadrillion bits of data as a drug; our PCs and tablets and smartphones are like syringes and tightly rolled paper money we use to inject and snort the latest particle of news/gossip/fact/view.
And we need to do this ALL THE TIME. Check emails; refresh Twitter; update Facebook; reload Instagram; click, click, click; move, retweet, reblog, save, scroll, do it again in case we miss something.
I sigh when I hear about someone keeping their smartphone on at night. How could they allow their sleep to be interrupted by the chirp and beep of the latest morsel of news from someone else’s life? More often than not it’s not worth cracking open an eye to read. Gone be the days when getting news at 4am meant something really bad had happened to someone close. You know, actual life-changing news. Not a message that Ricky Gervais has retweeted something amusing or that a friend of a friend was eating his dinner in Dubai.
They are the technozombies, these folk who experience life through the little screen on their phones. You see them up the front of a Bruce Springsteen gig, so close that some of his DNA must be upon them, and they are watching him perform through the rectangular cyclops eye of a touchscreen. Beyonce even chastised a fan recently for being so enthralled in recording her with a camera that he couldn’t warble “To the left, to the left” when she stuck the mic in his face.
You can see them walking along in the sunshine, beneath the swaying trees, serenaded by birdsong – but they’re too busy stabbing out a text message with a twitching thumb to notice. Just recently I was in a Subway outlet and a teenaged couple entered, holding hands and full of the awkward body language of youth. He did the ordering for them both and the paying too. They were there for about 10 minutes. She spent the entire time hypnotised by the little black box in her hand; she never looked up once. Her beau had to pull her away from the jamb of the door before she crashed into it. Check out this post on the pandemic.
Too many of us are recording life, not experiencing it. The next generation is in danger. We must teach them about the internet, sure. Let them know its power, like any other tool. But we must redouble our efforts to teach them that the virtual world is not real, and the real world is the one where experience really counts.
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