21 February 2010


Wired? Insulated? Excluded? I have even invented a new word - "techluded" with a definition that might run something like this "to be removed from everyday life through addiction to technological aids (e.g. mobile phone, digital music player, laptop)". It's not logical I know but I can't help bristling about certain aspects of the "digital revolution" to which we are all meant to subscribe like unthinking moonies. Let me elucidate with some examples from the last twenty four hours.

I am on a London bus riding from Golders Green station to Euston because the Northern Line on the tube system is closed for engineering works. A Russian student from Kings College plonks herself next to me and for the next forty five minutes, as we move sluggishly from traffic jam to traffic jam, she gabbles on in Russian to two or three different friends. On and on it went. Samovars and Pushkin, Siberian suitors and Crimean crimes. Somebody sharing my personal space but with her mind elsewhere - not caring a fig for her fellow passengers and probably oblivious to the unnaturalness of her mobile communication. She's grown up with it.

Near Hampstead Heath I notice Saturday joggers all wearing their obligatory white ear wires. Are they jogging to the beat of banality - Take That, JLS, Girls Aloud? Who knows?

Music is social - for sharing. Looking up my carriage on the 20.05 train back to Doncaster, I count sixteen people with tiny earphones in their lugholes privately absorbing their chosen tracks inside their own little dream worlds - voluntarily stepping away from everyday reality as if in a trance. It's always other people's music - never music they have made themselves. There are half a dozen tapping away at laptops. One might imagine important business deals but as I return from the lavatory, I see they're mostly on entertainment or news sites and one is playing solitaire. They are all wearing headphones. Doubly cut off.

There are bleeps from text messages sent or received and phone calls to friends and families. The railway carriage of 2010 is a much different place from the carriage of 2000. Just ten years and we find all this technological ease and absorption - I-phones, MP3 players, laptops, internet access even in transit. Instinctively I have partly excluded myself from this cult and see it with a mixture of curiosity and horror. Making this blog and being internet-savvy, I don't think of myself as a technophobe at all but this tendency for people to enter their own little technologically supported worlds - even in public - is one that makes me shudder. It's almost as if the real world doesn't matter any more. Woh oh woh indeed.

Walkin' about with a head full of music
Cassette in my pocket and I'm gonna use it-stereo
-out on the street you know-woh oh woh...
Cliff Richard "Wired for Sound"


  1. It comes to something when you need to quote Cliff 'Closet' Richard to emphasise a point! (However, it is a great, bad song)

    Can agree fully with the phone conversations- especially in 'that' London- people don't seem to give a toss in the capital but it's getting like that everywhere- even Thailand to a certain extent.

    Can't agree with the walkman/mp3/ipod revolution- ever since the days of the walkman having your own personal window into a song is more important than a shared exprerience by far.

    As for laptops... well...it's just a great example of how people can't sit still for 1/2 hours- maybe the US drug companies should make Ritalin available over the counter to combat the attention deficit on public transport?

  2. Oh, YP, I so agree. Don't get me started on this or you'll never hear the last of my disgruntlement. Why, oh why, can't some folk get through a theatre trip/adult education lesson/restaurant meal/any other public or social occasion without texting, twittering or cyber-talking? Whatever happened to manners and polite interaction with those who share your company?

    Gosh, I'd forgotten about, 'Wired for Sound' - first cassette my beloved bought me, as I recall. Didn't have the heart to tell him that I didn't share his mother's love of Cliff.

  3. When I was hauling a van load of teenagers to 4-H events a few years ago, I banned all that stuff. The event was only a destination, the real reason I took kids places was so they could have some good bonding time.

    I find the earphone stuff just an extension of the trend that TV started. My husband used to think good family time was spent when the rest of us sat in the same room and watched him watch TV. Which is one reason why I threw it away.

    Maybe we should change the way kids are schooled. Send them to school to socialize, learn folk dances, do sports, have fun. Then send them home to listen to their lessons on MP3, or watch them on a DVD. It has always seemed unnatural to me to get a bunch of kids together, then tell them to shut up and ignore each other.

  4. i agree, it's all very weird, but somehow inevitable .... maybe in a few years the fashion will pass and people will once more want to speak to other people in person, or learn to be more than 5 minutes without checking their incoming texts ..... I can just about put up with anything, but Not with the people who check and text while they are in a small meeting of 3 or 4, or even a face-to-face meeting, or individual class, .... recently myself and two friends had to meet an MEP for one of our local campaigns and he was constantly fiddling with his gadgets (laptop, mobile, pda) while we talked to him (obviously not "with" him).

  5. SIR B.BOOTH I don't mind walkmans/mp3s/ I pods - though I would never have one myself - it's just seeing people with them in public that I dislike.Also I think people should have their ears open when cycling, running or simply walking about urban areas as there are traffic dangers and you really need to be alert at all times.
    ELIZABETH III "Whatever happened to manners and polite interaction with those who share your company?" Precisely! That's getting close to the nub of my complaint about portable technologies.
    JAN BLAWAT You got me. A 4-H event? No idea what this might mean...I agree with you that instead of promoting the decent fundamentals of life, education systems around the world are cow-towing to those who promote these distracting technologies. In this way we are arguably creating an unhealthy alienation from the things that really matter.
    BRIAN You should have given that rude, distracted MEP a fist in the nuts. That would have grabbed his attention.

  6. Yes, you're probably right. Fortunately we merely needed his "vote", not his attention, so we all grinned and bore it and, afterwards, each went our separate ways - his a bit more €uro-lined than mine, though.


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