Using social media to ponder the detrimental effect of social media is undeniably paradoxical but bear with me.
Like most I have happily embraced the convenience of the Internet and Google is now a verb in my lexicon. Instant fact finding at your fingertips is undeniably handy, albeit that being able to find how to bake a banana cake or build a bomb using stuff you already have lying around the house is both a blessing and curse.
Such is progress and as we move, seemingly inexorably, towards a future of self-drive cars, (which I’m decidedly wary about,) I thought I’d pause to consider the wisdom of replacing human intellect with cyber intelligence.
Does it remove the need for us to think?
For instance, when did you last see any young person conduct even the simplest financial transaction without an electronic calculator? If you want to throw a sales assistant into a brain freeze try giving them a $20 note and 75 cents in coins for a $17.75 purchase. Momentary paralysis will ensue while they tacitly curse you for not just using a card to pay like any normal person.
It seems to me, the world of the young increasingly exists within the confines of a digital screen. Devices not only supply them with entertainment and engage them in cyber conversation, but also provide the source of information, calculations and, quite possibly, the bulk of their homework. Thinking for your self is optional.
This thought occurred to me recently when I was using a combination of taxi services while on a holiday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On one hand there were established taxis, usually battered vehicles driven by world-weary older guys, on the other was an Uber-like service with small modern cars driven by part-timers – students and the like. The latter invariably used GPS devices and slavishly followed the route laid out by their cyber aids while the older guys navigated the back streets by memory — cleverly avoiding trouble spots and gridlock —and always got us to our destination faster.
It occurred to me, (and was confirmed by a couple of casual conversations), that the young ones did not know the streets of their city. They had never learned them. There was no need because they had always used GPS. So there had never been any need for them to take note of landmarks or street names or pesky trouble spots especially since, as one driver pointed out, the newer GPS apps also alert you to traffic problems and suggest alternative routes, which is surely a precursor to the aforementioned self-drive cars. So you don’t need to know where you are, your device will show you the way. While you have battery power you will be okay. Should your battery go flat well… basically you’re fucked. Ergo the excuse for so many failures today is: ‘Sorry, my phone died.’
And in Malaysia, as in every country on the planet, people are increasingly obsessed with their phones. Few look out at the world around them, all are looking in. On the street, in the malls, on the beach, everywhere people unaware of their surroundings focussed only on the hypnotic blue tones of their digital screens. Even honeymoon couples, silent at breakfast, each consumed with the messages and emails on their phone. Romance is dead.
It seems conversation (usually inane) flourishes in text-speak not person to person. Except, of course, for those who insist on sitting next to me in cafés and holding long and loud mobile phone conversations while stealing my will to live. Theirs is a rudeness born out of a complete unawareness and disregard for the world and people around them. They are simply a product of the digital age.
I like music as much as the next person, possibly more, but taking a walk with music blaring through your headphones seems self-defeating to me. It’s also dangerous (you don’t hear approaching vehicles) and aggravating for those around you. People with headphones plugged into mobile phones listening to ‘gym class’ music or holding inane conversations in public places brings out the murderer in me.
In many ways social media is in fact anti-social but it’s not a new or passing wave, it’s a tsunami. I can only wonder what it will destroy and what traces of civilisation will be left in its wake. Consideration for others appears to be the first casualty. I only hope thinking outside the square is not the next.
How long will it be before we let go of the wheel completely and let technology takes us for a ride? It’s coming, I’m sure of that. I only hope that it will at least allow we passengers to relax, look away from our screens and enjoy the blessings of the world around us. However, I imagine cars will simply be filled with more screens so we can all play games, watch music videos or, ironically, perhaps even enjoy nature documentaries.
I’m going for a walk now. I’ll listen to the cicadas, ponder the miracles in my garden and wonder why weeds are always so much stronger than flowers.
I will not be wearing headphones.