Increasingly, references to Orwell, Kafka and Huxley have been the go to places for people who want to literally contextualise their lives and derive some comfort in the knowledge that, ‘this has all happened before’. Except, it hasn’t.
Sitting in a loo in Milan airport 14 years ago, after a congested flight and a more congested alimentary canal, I sat pondering nothing but the imminent arrival of relief. At the time, Batelco was offering a free and introductory one month offer of ‘news headlines’ that pinged, as I ponged, uncontrollably from my mobile, nestling in my top jacket pocket which hung from a hook on the back of the door. I struggled to acquire the garment and retrieve the device to check the ping didn’t herald any domestic emergency. It didn’t. The generous headline service informed me that 20 minutes ago the Band Oasis had been in a minor fender bender in LA, no injuries.
Irritated at the interruption to my important work, I replaced the phone and contemplated distance. That vital offering of showbiz offal, had bounced from LA, via satellite, to somewhere in Europe, then sprung to the Middle East and Bahrain, only to be hurled back to Milan and ultimately to me in cubicle 3 of the men’s at Malpensa International Airport, at the speed of light. The sheer velocity with which I’d received the information teased my polemic nature and reminded me of Pheidippides and the 36 hours and 40km he’d run to inform the Athenians that the Persians had had a batting collapse and were retiring from the wicket.
I thought, “This must mean that history is unfolding at an unprecedented rate”. After all, decisions can only be made on good intelligence and the speed with which one receives that data is paramount.
Today, we routinely dispatch and receive information with irritation at five second delays and complaints of slow bandwidth and intermittent coverage. 5G’s arrival is imminent, but are we better informed and has histories unfolding happened at an exponentially quicker rate than my heady days in Milan? I think not.
Within the detritus and ambient noise of vast quantities of irrelevance, real information is lost. We sift and scrape through cultural junk, emojis, images, vile videos et al, like refugees looking for a needle of truth on a municipal dump.
Platform after platform encourage us to capitulate to their newer, faster, more secure algorithms in the knowledge that we are genetically susceptible to suggestion, pretty pictures and shiny objects. So many jackdaws hopelessly drawn to the burlesque and banal. The submission of our critical faculties to a 4x2 inch screen that renders us hunched and alone whilst surrounded by other humans collectively gacked up on insignificance. Worse still is the alarming increase in male suicides in the 40 to 55 year old demographic, particularly in the Western industrialised nations, where the social media projection of utopian lives, most notably on Facebook, renders the viewer despairing beyond redemption at their own failed existences. Impossibly happy couples chinking champagne flutes at ‘Marks latest promotion’ and utterly facile ‘foot’ pictures around a pool, swaying palms, Hollywood smiles, more champagne and canapés with the Kardashians. The ‘surprise’ upgrade to business class, preceded by business class lounge check-ins, to let you all know how brilliantly I’m doing. The minor scholastic achievements of progeny and how utterly delighted we all are and image after image of the latest smearings from Chef Bloatard, at Chez Vous who’s charging thousands for mangled protein and carbohydrates topped by a sprig of mint, liberally swathed in larks vomit foam!
Obsessive selfies of pouting neurotics on their third update of the day viewed through Apple filters that do more for their complexion and crow’s feet than Dr.Tariq ever could in a year of surgical distinction, claw at our tenuous grip on reality which, plaintively and desperately craves one more begrudging ‘like’.
And while we bask in imagined approval, simpering and flirting with our own reflections like psychotic narcissists obsessed with bizarre ritual, everything is recorded.
In the decimation of our collective self respect, we willingly surrender our personal details to the click-bait masters of ‘quizzes only 5pc of the population can answer’, in our genius we disseminate our lives, our children’s lives, our grandchildren’s lives, our whereabouts, our age, our preferences, our education, our contact details, our image and joyfully, graciously, happily our privacy.
Social media is synonym for surveillance and the 4x2 inch device in your pocket is its avatar.
I’m going to break free! Liberate myself! Cast off the shackles and dance naked in the rain! Free at last.
....I’ll just see if I’ve got any likes....