Tuesday 20 February 2018

Darragh McManus: If social media and phones are so smart, why are we all acting dumb and dumber?

Is the dominance of social media in modern life doing us damage, asks journalist Darragh McManus

Smartphone dumb
Smartphone dumb
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I hate the internet. Are you allowed to say that nowadays? Does it mark you out as psychologically unstable? Will people see this confession as comparable to those weirdos who deny the reality of evolution or claim the Earth is flat? I don't know and don't care. I hate the internet.

Pandora's Box has been opened now, and there's no putting the lid down again.

The internet isn't all bad. Email is handy enough and allows journalists to file copy and pictures from anywhere on the planet.

There's lots of useful information online. It's handy for research. It connects people and opens up the globe.

Then there's the easy accessibility of the mighty Archer on Netflix, seasons one through eight.

I still hate it, though. However, to be specific - and fair - it's really social media that I can't stand.

If I had a time machine I'd go back and stop Tim Berners-Lee from inventing the web. Failing that, I'd scoot forward a few years and abduct whichever infernal genius devised the smartphone.

Social media is a pox, a curse, a calamity. It's perdition on Earth, though not quite the worst thing ever created by the self-destructive mind of man: atomic weapons, organised warfare, fundamentalist religion - the list is depressingly long; but social media is awful, in every sense of that word.

It's not only the shocking stories of online predators that make me believe this, though monsters such as Matthew Horan turn the stomach.

Social media is terrible on countless levels. It makes us stupid. It reduces attention spans. It wrecks your vision and dulls your mind. It stops us reading books, which makes us even more stupid.

It's a giant, omnivorous vortex that wastes entire days.

It encourages everyone to have an opinion, on everything; Stephen Hawking himself couldn't quantify how boring this has made the world.

It gives morons a platform to be abusive or obnoxious or ignorant, filling the ether with their pointless babble.

It speeds up the atomisation of society, reducing human beings to isolated pathetic specks of light blinking in a vast black emptiness.

It puts far too much information out there, at far too high a rate of turnover.

We haven't the first clue what it's doing to our brains.

We're guinea pigs in a gigantic experiment, all the more terrifying because nobody is controlling this one.

That's adult brains, by the way - I shudder to think what havoc it's wreaking on the unformed neurological architecture of children.

It's been blamed for or credited with, depending on your political leanings, the election of Donald Trump.

It enabled the so-called Arab Spring, and we all know how well that turned out for the poor people of North Africa.

It made Kim Kardashian a superstar. It spreads falsehoods and drivel so quickly, widely and powerfully that even those disseminating the lies can't tell any more what's real and what isn't.

It's also making the world sick: the glow of the screen, that poisonous omnipresent glow, is making us nauseous, physically and spiritually.

Where will it end? Well, that's the whole point, really: nobody has the faintest idea, not even the tech gurus themselves (many of whom, tellingly, forbid their own children from accessing these devices).

Am I a dinosaur, a Luddite, a relic from a bygone age? Probably, yeah. I still don't care and I still hate it.

Just ignore it, then? Nobody's forcing me to go on social media?

This is true, which is the main reason I've never owned a smartphone.

I don't want to feel connected all the time, I don't want to be 'on' 24-7 - the thought is creepy and unnerving.

So I use an old-style Nokia which makes calls, sends texts, takes fairly decent photos and can - just about - check my email or the sports results.

My phone would have a seizure if I tried to watch a video or, God forbid, upload one of my kids doing something cute and precocious, maybe, or me droning on with "what struck me" about Brexit/Kim K/the Nutella riots.

However, I still have to live in this society, which is hurtling towards who knows what kind of psychic disintegration, caused by social media.

I realise that time-travel idea isn't feasible, so is there any chance we could at least take some remedial action? Goodbye, Facegram. So long, Instatweet. Hit the road, Snapbook. Better late than never, as far as this old Luddite is concerned.

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