Smart phones, dumb people


“ONE DAY,” I told my English literature teacher, “we’ll have enormous, wafer-thin 3d TVs, computers on our wrists, phones in our pockets, and …” here I paused for dramatic effect, “people will be having sex via their computers or with robots”.

That was back in the 1960s, and the classroom of 15-year-olds – after a moment of stunned silence – burst out laughing.

“Duke,” bellowed Mr Matcher, “where in God’s name do you get your preposterous and frankly filthy ideas? “I shot back: “By reading science fiction, sir. And, mark my words, I really do believe that this will all happen in my lifetime.”

Am I happy that so much that was once pure fantasy is now a reality? By and large, yes.

The Internet made it possible for me to take a lucrative editing contract with me when I moved from the UK to Spain, and today it allows me to promote humanism and gay rights by working with like-minded folk from around the world – people like Samuel, a Ugandan contact who alerted me a while back to the fact a British evangelist, Paul Shinners, had travelled to Uganda to support the introduction of the death penalty for homosexuality.

After using my Freethinker website to exposed Shinners, who runs Cornerstones, a Christian bookshop/cafe in St Neots near Cambridge, the story went viral and dozens of protesters targeted his enterprise, which was forced to close for three days.

Shinners flatly denied that he had gone to Africa to stoke up hatred. He threatened to sue me, but quickly backed down when I unearthed a video which showed him addressing a Christian rally where he congratulated Uganda for drafting a vile “Kill the Gays” bill. The bill, by the way, was never passed, thanks to international condemnation, but Uganda remains an extremely hostile place for the LGBT community.

Sadly, there is a downside to the communications revolution.

A week or so back, fellow contributor to RTN – Sammy Kruz, who works at one of my favourite gay bars, Sensations in the Old Town of Benidorm – posted this on Facebook:
Customer: anywhere more lively to go?
Me: well if you took ya nose out ya phone … switched off Grindr and all the other apps, maybe you would notice that you are surrounded by nice, attractive, interesting people!!!

Sammy nailed it. Look around any bar or restaurant and you’ll find folk either staring glassy-eyed at large TV screens or at mobile phone displays.

What you’ll rarely encounter is stimulating talk because people are far too preoccupied with their phones. As recently as last week I gave up trying to chat with a guy because he thought his Samsung made far better company than I did. And he was fast approaching 80! So much for conviviality.

In 1977, science fiction writer J G Ballard wrote a story entitled “The Intensive Care Unit” set in a world in which people no longer have any form of physical contact. Instead, they are obliged by law to live alone in their homes. Only via video links are they permitted to interact with others.

If we want to avoid ending up in the sort of de-socialised, dystopian future Ballard envisaged, we need to start using technology far less selfishly and begin re-engaging with our fellow humans in the way we did before the invention of texting and the like.

It’s known as conversation, folks. Start practicing it before your tongues atrophy and die.

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