Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the unnuanced spareness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat. I think of that lost world, the way we lived before these new networking technologies, as having two poles: solitude and communion. The new chatter puts us somewhere in between, assuaging fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deep zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others.
I live in the heart of it, and it’s normal to walk through a crowd — on a train, or a group of young people waiting to eat in a restaurant — in which everyone is staring at the tiny screens in their hands. It seems less likely that each of the kids waiting for the table for eight has an urgent matter at hand than that this is the habitual orientation of their consciousness. At times I feel as though I’m in a bad science fiction movie where everyone takes orders from tiny boxes that link them to alien overlords. Which is what corporations are anyway, and mobile phones decoupled from corporations are not exactly common.
REBECCA SOLNIT Diary from London Review Of Books Vol. 35 No. 16
. . . now it's hard to get through a meal with friends without somebody reaching for an iPhone to retrieve the kind of fact it used to be the brain's responsibility to remember.
Nice, Solnit's word 'shallow'.
Are we in danger of losing access to the humanly important, life-enhancing states of 'solitude and communion'? We certainly have to work harder to achieve them. And they are, in my view, deeply necessary.
Just a few observations.
I know someone who walked the Pennine Way with his earpiece incessantly feeding mediaspeak for the whole trip.
The other day, as I strolled round a beautiful nearby town on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I tried to estimate how many people were smartphoning and iPadding. My guess was 70%. They were doing it alone, in couples and in groups, in shop doorways, sitting on benches in parks and railway stations, standing, walking, running.
And am I the only person who thinks it's rude to tweet and text at mealtimes and in intimate company? (I may be quite out-of-date here, as I've noticed how many people now seem able to integrate the new technologies with ease into social situations, multitasking quite naturally.)