Thursday 25 December 2014

21st Century Man: Has technology made us eternal kids?

Rick O'Shea

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

Stock image
Stock image

I'm aware the title of this column is 21st Century Man so maybe this isn't the best place to put my latest cobbled-together theory out there. However, the need to think things through has never stopped me before, so this week I bring you - the internet is turning us into small, whining little children. Tah dah!

I think I can say this as the canary in the coalmine because I spend so much of my working day online, hooked up and scanning the matrix. I believe we are being infantilised by our smartphones and the medium of the internet itself. The more I look, the more I see how daily almost constant use of the shiny, pretty, fun plastic rectangles of joy in our pockets is making us behave more and more like little babies.

I was sitting in a theatre in London a few weeks ago and in the row in front of me was a guy in his twenties with his family. They were from Texas (I'm not an earwigger, swear) and like lots of other people in the audience, he had his smartphone out before the performance and then during the interval. It took me a while to notice, but he wasn't actually doing anything with it apart from flicking it so the screen lit up every 15 seconds or so. He wasn't even looking at the phone while he was doing this, in fact he was chatting away to the person sitting beside him. It seemed to be more a comfort thing. He was using his phone as a blanky.

Remember the Safe Cross Code? When we were kids we were taught to stop at kerb sides by that delightfully crap public service video and an earworm of a song so catchy you'd have to have it removed surgically from your cerebral cortex. We learned, it made sense, we didn't walk out in front of cars and get mown down indiscriminately. We were big boys and girls. Except these days, we're not.

At least four times in the last two months I've almost ended up hitting people who walked straight off the footpath in front of my 'box of metal death on wheels' (it's her nickname) because they were looking at the screens of their smartphones. Whatever level of Angry Birds they were trying to finish, whatever text they were enthralled by, whatever breaking news headline about the launch of Kim Kardashian's baby's fashion range they were hypnotised by, it was almost the last thing they saw on this earth.

Maybe we need a new version for grown-ups? "Remember, 1 - look for a safe place, 2 - stop checking the latest Facebook post about what your mates were doing last night because you might walk out in front of a huge truck and get squished into a bang up to date if not breathing pancake."

Needs a bit of work, admittedly.

Of course, when it comes to FB and Twitter (and Instagram, Snapchat, whatever the newest platform that's been invented since 7am is) there's now a whole generation and counting who have been turned into self-obsessed, self-broadcasting six-year-old selfie stars. Every tiniest emotion is detailed, everything they see photographed, every single cup of tea shown off to everyone they know. It's not all that far from "look at me mammy, look at what I'm doing, I just did a poo, no, no, no, pay attention to me. Wheeeeeeeeeee!" They spell like six-year-olds too. Ten years ago if you'd told most adults that they'd be slingshotting birds at pigs or lining up shiny pieces of candy for hours on end while sitting on the bus, or on a sofa, or at a funeral they wouldn't have believed you. Seven-year-olds would be right at home.

We flit from page to page to headline to image to half-assimilated tweet faster than our 3G can keep up. I'm as bad as anyone - anything laughingly called 'longform' I stick in a folder or mail to myself to be read at a later date that never comes. I even wonder with attention spans regressing if the Breaking Bad of 2034 won't be five 30 second clips instead of five seasons. If you ever doubt attention spans are changing remind yourself what you're like if something online loads slowly. I've seen people with a momentary lapse in swift page retrieval reduced to the equivalent of a kid in the back of the car moaning "are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Of course at the end of this I've come to realise that this half-arsed theory is just that, and not a whole arse at all. But still, if it stops you from getting run over or means you cure cancer instead of finishing level 1054 of Candy Crush CIA Hypnosis Plot, then that's a good thing. Of course, chances are you never read beyond the first 50 words of this.

I'll stop typing now.

to be read at a later date that never comes. I even wonder with attention spans regressing if the Breaking Bad of 2034 won't be five 30-second clips instead of five seasons.

If you ever doubt attention spans are changing, remind yourself what you're like if something online loads slowly. I've seen people with a momentary lapse in swift page retrieval reduced to the equivalent of a kid in the back of the car moaning "are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Of course at the end of this I've come to realise that this half-arsed theory is just that and not a whole arse at all, but still, if it stops you from getting run over or means you cure cancer instead of finishing level 1054 of Candy Crush CIA Hypnosis Plot then that's a good thing. Of course, chances are you never read beyond the first 50 words of this.

I'll stop typing now.

Irish Independent

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