Tuesday 21 November 2017

Virtual addicts or people who need a life?

* Disclosure: Ireland's Screen Slaves, TV 3
* It Was Alright In The 1990s, Channel 4

Addicted: John and Saoirse in a scene from Ireland's Screen Slaves.
Addicted: John and Saoirse in a scene from Ireland's Screen Slaves.
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

What's your idea of an addict? Is it someone who has allowed drink and drugs to get the better of them? Is it someone who has thoroughly torched their entire life in a futile attempt to fill some existential gap in their soul? We're all experts on addiction in Ireland because there's not a single family who has remained untouched by a loved one who is stuck on a downward spiral.

Short of shooting yourself in the head, there are few ways more guaranteed to destroy yourself than spiralling into an uncontrollable and corrosive habit.

So, if you had to be an addict, what would you choose as your poison?

Nobody wants to be an alcoholic because apart from all the fun and games that gig entails, it's also a cliche. Nobody willingly becomes addicted to drugs because there's a good chance you'll end up pan handling on O'Connell Street (I once spent a day begging in the city centre for a feature and still remember the smirk on the face of a former neighbour of mine as she passed by. That made a for a nice piece of gossip when she got home, I'm sure; she always said I'd end up a wrong 'un and there was her proof).

Gambling, on the other hand, seems at first glance like a more acceptable affliction, but it's actually probably the worst of the lot. After all, given mobile technology, all you need to ruin your life and be forced to sell your house is a smartphone and a betting app.

After this week's Disclosure: Ireland's Screen Slaves, I reckon that the best addiction to have is being hopelessly hooked on the internet.

Presented by Adrian Weckler, tech guru and Inspector Gadget of this very parish, this was a rather strange exploration of the neophenomenon that is being an internet junkie. Featuring three pleasant volunteers who had self diagnosed themselves as addicts, it would be hard to imagine a less destructive form of compulsive behaviour.

John, Saoirse and Orla were all presented as people who had lost their sense of self as they immersed themselves in the virtual world and they were quick to announce their shameful secret on TV. Of course, the fact that they all seemed to be perfectly happy to laugh and joke about it shows that maybe the definition of addiction has become so stretched as to be meaningless. The most interesting question posed by Weckler asked if constant use of social media was changing our brains.

The answer to that is a resounding yes. In fact, it almost seems as if there's an inverse proportion between social media use and basic intelligence.

How else can we explain the fact that the most voracious Tweeters are often the most stupid people you will ever encounter?,

As the trio embarked on a 'digital detox' and went without their phone and laptop for a week, it became clear that only one of them, the guy called John with the unfortunate earrings, had anything that could be rationally described as a problem.

Admitting, as he did, that he prefers to spend time online than with his young child was, I suppose, a brave thing to do if only because he was prepared to publicly admit that he's a bit of an eejit.

But the most important part dealt with the obnoxious habit of filming gigs on your phone. Few things are more annoying than being stuck behind some jerk holding their mobile or tablet above their head - it's insulting to the band (and has become the bane of many comedians who want to try out new material without it ending up on YouTube) and shows a complete disregard for their fellow patrons.

What happened to simply remembering something? In a culture where something must be recorded for it to be deemed 'real', we run the risk of raising a generation utterly incapable of actually remembering anything using their brain.

Weckler asked if social media had turned us all into 'selfie obsessed narcissists' and the answer was, again, a rather depressing but resounding yes. The presenter deserves immense credit, notably for his admirable ability to refrain from bursting into laughter when a grown man became tearful at the thoughts of being away from Facebook for a week.

But is it an addiction or merely an irritating compulsion? Well, let's put it this way - when you wake up in a field in Tullamore with no wallet, no idea how you got there and your trousers around your ankles, then we can start to talk about actual addiction (that last example was entirely random by the way, and not the events of last Saturday night).

Social media is fine. But some people should maybe try living in the real world for a change. But I can see the counselling sessions now - I started doing a bit of Twitter for a laugh and before I knew it I was up to my neck in Facebook and Snapchat.

Doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it?

The music may have been better in the 1990s, but It Was Alright In The 1990s reminded us of some of the worst programmes ever made. Perhaps the most shocking moment was a young Davina McCall hosting a show to see which contestant could have a poo the quickest.

Yes, you read that right - people won money for having a number 2. I knew she was responsible for more crap telly than anyone else but I had no idea it could be taken literally.

Irish Independent

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