I’m not talking about the normalisation of pornography and abuse. More ‘less human contact’ is making us just every-day horrible.
Internet interactions have a hugely important role to play – especially now when the mainstream media is controlled more blatantly than ever by money and vested interests. But is disconnection the price we are paying? IT is not just making us stupid (see blog 143) it’s obliterating those precious empathies that have taken so so long to evolve.
The other day I had one of THOSE incidents that push this phenomenon up into your consciousness. Walking along the river path, a rather too playful dog made a bee-line for me. Its owner was focused on whatever was happening on her screen. The dog – possibly due to the lack of its owner’s interest - was playing up. It made some energetic jumps at me then ran round barking before (and the woman approaching still hadn’t looked up from her phone) eventually leaping up my back with muddy paws dragging at my clothes. I called out to the woman and you would have thought she was the muddied, discombobulated party. She went from head-in-phone to screaming abuse in a blink. It was a park she yelled. I should – she implied - expect and accept her dog's behaviour. ‘You can’t go to the police unless the dog bites you’ she screeched as I silently took her picture with my own phone. Yes – I decided to indulge in non-contact interaction because really the only logical contact at that point would have been to punch her. I can only assume that her mood was matching – not the river walk – not the dog she was meant to be with – not the lovely morning - but whatever was going on in phone world.
Here in Edinburgh it is that time of year when, if you walk along any main street in the city, you will invariably rear-end someone who is stumbling along viewing life through some hi tech piece of equipment. They are utterly unaware of the reality round them so will suddenly stop when they notice something through the lens that interests them. One can’t help thinking that – if they ever go back to these images – they will be looking at things they have never really SEEN.
Don’t get me started on the dehumanising experience of dealing with any large organisation online or via a computerised phone system.
I suggest that a certain paranoia goes hand in hand with this disconnection especially when you mix it with the high octane flavour of much social media. On returning a small item to argos I had to give my name and address to the young man at the till. I asked that he ensure my name didn’t end up on their electronic mail-out list. ‘NO’ he said mysteriously, looking at me smile-less – ‘it’s to make sure it’s a genuine return and there’s no funny business’. I wrinkled my nose – funny business... with a £12.99 item when the refund is going back onto the debit card that paid for it? Looking at me with renewed intensity he added mysteriously and as if he thought he was an undercover FBI agent, ‘it often starts with small things’. He did not elucidate what ‘it’ was but clearly I had the look of an international money launderer – albeit one who used the bus, shopped at argos and whose budget stretched to a £12.99 shower rail. Today argos – tomorrow the world!!!
Recently a friend (a real one) found someone I knew on their fb book page and drew my attention to their pages and pages of selfies – but also to the number of ‘friends’ they had listed. It ran to over 500 – and this was a proper grown up not a teenager. I had to wonder if this is why the person in question has so little time to contact the people she really knows.
When I see parents walking along with toddlers in buggies – the child desperately trying for attention while mum or dad frown into their mobiles - I feel like snatching the phone out of their hands.
We are missing each other.
When I go to Lidl on Nicholson street and insist on using the till rather than the self service checkout and there is a sighing and rolling of eyes – I always push the ‘unhappy shopper’ button as I leave (like anyone really cares).
When I realise I could get through my entire week - library, shop, travel, etc without ever speaking to another sinner, I need a sit down and have a cup of tea.