I would recommend all of you to read a book by Andrew Keen, called The Internet is not the Answer (Atlantic Books 2015). It contains important warnings about the world we live in, and the risks we are running of remaining, not the free agents in a free world we like to see ourselves as, but ever more like slaves entrapped in a world controlled by the large corporations, such as Apple, Amazon and Google, whose power over us grows by the day.
The author points to a worrying aspect of today’s world, our current obsession with ourselves. The rise of the mobile phone and Instagram have disturbing consequences, one of the most frightening being what he calls our “self-centric culture”, in which “if we have no thought to Tweet or photo to post, we basically cease to exist.” And “the truth about networks like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook is that their easy-to-use, free tools delude us into thinking we are celebrities.”
I have often thought that the electronic equipment most of us feel to be absolutely indispensable to our modern lives, and which is intended to link us ever more closely to one another, ironically leads instead to our distancing ourselves more and more from each other. The cameras in our mobile phones are encouraging us to look at each other through a lens, rather than in the eye. The messages we send are beginning to stop us speaking to one another, voice to voice. We now text rather than talk.
The young woman sitting opposite me in the café a few days ago made no contact with anybody during the time that I watched her, all her human interactions being through her electronic equipment. It felt as though she lived in a bubble all on her own. As Andrew Keen says, “The truth…is that we are mostly just talking to ourselves on these supposedly “social” networks…. (It is) an Internet in which the more social we become, the more we connect and communicate and collaborate, the lonelier we become.” Are we perhaps starting to live in an age of Metal, that element which mourns the loss of what is valuable, and in its imbalance may cut us off increasingly from each other and from the world around us?
Finally, to add to these rather depressing thoughts, a little comment by the writer, Robert Macfarlane, whose lovely books about walking in nature and in the wild all of us should also read. In an article of his in the Guardian newspaper, I read that the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary now includes words like “chatroom” and “broadband”, but not “bluebell” or “kingfisher”. I also read that they are now discussing whether children should continue to be taught handwriting in school, presumably because it is assumed that they will no longer be using pen and paper but tapping away on their keypads to communicate. All these different developments underline the seismic changes going on around us. No doubt many of these may herald exciting new departures which we should welcome. Others, though, represent losses. I am sad that children’s vocabularies may no longer include bluebells or kingfishers.