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50 ways to leave your lover: Declan Lynch's tales of addiction



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You will often hear it said, that in addiction, a person becomes isolated. That they get stuck in a world of their own that is not the actual world; a place that, to them, seems better in many ways - until it starts to get worse.

They say that human beings can't take too much reality, and in some cases they can't take any of it - so they become, as they say, isolated. They can't get on with other people unless they're drinking; they can't endure the boredom of the day without doing drugs or gambling, or whatever it takes.

And then came the smartphone.

Everyone is isolated now; the tech gods have created the most powerful machines ever invented for consuming our attention and devouring our time.

And it is all the more powerful, because it gives us the illusion that it is doing the opposite of what it is actually doing - it seems to be connecting us to the rest of the world in the most miraculous way, when, in truth, it is locking us into our own heads.

Which, now that I think of it, is almost exactly what all other addictive substances have been doing for centuries - with good reason, we speak of a person being 'locked.'

For example, one of the supposedly great benefits of the smartphone and social media in general, is that it brings people together in a common cause. So that if, say, a bunch of environmentalists want to respond quickly to some atrocity, they can round up an online posse in a few minutes, and take it from there.

And yet something has struck me about the climate-change activism which is largely driven by young people, which is indeed the single greatest cause of the age in the way that Vietnam or the civil rights movement were in the 1960s - somehow the climate-change activism doesn't feel quite as ferocious as those other protests, even though the cause itself could not be more righteous.

In the mind's eye, we see those earlier movements embroiled in violent confrontations with the police; we see mayhem on main street. By contrast, the climate-change protests, while they are excellent in themselves, are somehow more... civilised.

I have a theory that in olden days it was easier to round up a load of protesters for a good day's rioting, because that was the most meaningful way in which people could congregate in large numbers - they hadn't already spent many hours online sharing their plans and venting their anger; they hadn't used up all that good energy tweeting.

Again, there's the illusion of people 'coming together' online, when, in truth, they are all alone. We see how the online universe has this totalitarian edge, keeping everything under control while purporting to be enabling all sorts of freedom of expression.

We see these illusions most clearly in the way that they sell online gambling, those lovely TV ads in which the punter is plugged into a global network of fun-loving folk out there - we see the lights of some great city, full of other gamblers sharing the buzz of this never-ending party. We understand that if you are living in, say, Mullinavat, by logging on to your online gambling account and pressing 'Bet Now', you are connected to some like-minded individual in Rio de Janeiro.

And you think to yourself: what a wonderful world.

Which is roughly 100pc the opposite of what online gambling really does to you, if it starts to get a hold of you. Rather than linking you to a universal family, it can drive you so deep inside yourself, you may never come out again.

It is one of the more extreme forms of isolation to be found inside your smartphone, one of thousands, and they're thinking of new ones all the time.

Be careful in there.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine