Children seem to have grown out of the simplicity with which their forebears could be amused. Since ancient times, in nations from Africa to Asia, through empires Byzantine to British, simply rolling a hoop along the ground with a stick was a popular pastime, or even sport, depending on the culture.
To somebody whose childhood hand-me-down book on technology could only predict the telephonic watch, this is thankfully still imaginable. It’s as charming as it is inspirational to behold how creative children become in conjuring their own games, as my mother once did, by persuading her sibling to jump on ‘dried’ cow poo, or as my mate did by blowing up big piles of the stuff with petards on our a Grammar School French exchange. (Why those were the first two examples to come to mind I do not know.)
As things advance, childhoods are changing. I daresay they are becoming more sterile—maybe for the best, moo-poo considered. Quite magically, but very literally, at the flick of a finger we can read about and watch and learn to play any game or instrument ever made on a bloomin’ watch. All of the information and all of the potential in the history of the world, yet the upcoming generations will find this sort of thing so normal as to be unworthy of comment, much like the mobile phone today. It’s a sad paradox, the iPhone, it contains an infinitude of potential but produces a uniformity of outcome. Give a boy an iPhone at eight, and it’ll give you the man.
Much as it nauseates me to have noticed, it is a standard procedure to satisfy/subdue the curiosity of pram-dwellers with iPhones. Confining the blossoming consciousness of a child to five-inches of screen showing some banal software developer’s creation seems to me to be as much expedience as entertainment. But that’s coming from somebody who has implicitly favoured exploding excrement to Angry Birds.
Children aren’t changing, per se, but childhoods are. That many will grow up glued to screens, increasingly right from the get-go, will have an effect on society, one we can plainly see already. Everyone is aware of it, because (almost) everyone is on the bandwagon. As we ‘progress’ to buying the newest iPhones for the youngest members of the family, the formerly taboo becomes tiresomely normal. But I still reckon or hope that most my age would or should agree that it is rude to repeatedly use one’s phone in company (let alone the new normality of photographing and filming and Facebook-flicking). Who wants to go to a meal, a birthday party, a wedding, at which people constantly refer to their phones, as if to something more important, more meaningful, more interesting?
I found myself at a festival last year, sporting my great-grandmother-in-law’s floral peach of a dress, more flustered by cameraphones than flattered by compliments. Then I knew something was up. Kids filmed me unelicited for social media rather than talk to me for chirps. Then they watch the acts they’ve paid to see through said phones. Why not save yourself the money and watch it on a bigger screen and with nicer toilets at home? Your facebook feed’ll be full of twats like me you might have missed on your snapchat spree.
iPhonerism is as stark a reality at university. When hacking my first hungover lecture in first-year, I receded to the back of the hall to rot out of eye-and-nose-contact. This gave me a panoramic view of the attending students below: all phone and laptop screens, undoubtedly more looking at them then not. Given, some of the laptops would be used for taking notes. But, even then, really? I don’t complain just because my bugbear of hearing rat-a-tat-tat-tat when trying to listen to a lecturer. Knowing that these feckless wretches are costing themselves and their parents several tens of thousands of pounds to watch videos on facebook and play stick-man games—that bugs me more.
Distracted is what we are becoming. Overwhelmed by understimulating bollocks. We become distracted to the point of becoming distant. This distance is almost absolute here in English society, though it is rumoured that talking to strangers persists among the savages up north.
Maybe you’ve noticed this distance at work, or with friends, or even in your family. You definitely won’t struggle to remember the last time you spoke to somebody whilst they were on their phone. You probably won’t have thought it abnormal, either. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “What is so feckin’ urgently interesting that you can’t suffer granting me your undivided attention for the sake of an afternoon/meal/conversation?”
It’s two years since I deleted Facebook. I never wrote about it because, who am I to preach? So I shan’t. (Now. Much.) But it opened my eyes to things and I made meaningful decisions thereafter. I was clocking myself still thinking things like, “That’ll be a good picture/status,” and, like a tic, whipping out my phone and going for facebook. I thought to myself—really thought, different to thinking whilst distracted—that this is actually sad. Can you not enjoy XYZ on its own account, instead of feeding it through facebook? I will understatedly term it an epiphany, which I can’t and won’t do justice by attempting to summarise it here. I will try, with a question. Am I going to die thinking, “Oh boy, do I wish I’d spent more time in my one and only life on this dear phone!” Don’t die thinking precisely the opposite. My dear phone now remains mostly at home and on flight-safe mode. The queer relationship that I had with it, unnecessarily and excessively posting/texting/photographing, was terminated; life is better, brighter and simpler because of it.
Yet it is smartphones that make life simpler, so they say. But I don’t reckon life is better, brighter or simpler for kids who are growing up in intimate relationships with them. Life’s not better if one can’t suffer company without referring and reporting to social media, it’s not brighter experienced through a camera lens, and it certainly isn’t simpler if your online persona, ‘likes’ and text messages come to matter as much as real relations with people.
I said I shan’t preach (much!), but—dare you look up long enough to see that this is actually happening?
My partner—fiancée!—and I returned to our hostel in the woods outside of Münich after a long day walking and whiskeying about the place. I cooked up some grub and and we went to the wreck room with some vino, presumably to eat and drink alongside other happy holidayers. The room was large, with loads of seating, a ping-pong table and music. There were twelve humans in total and including us. Ten were on their God-forsaken phones. A sofa of young guys manning the music station, all heads bowed down, a sofa of young girls the same. The place was without chemistry, and if not for the music, would have been quiet. It would not have sounded as eerie as the scene looked to me. A Spanish teacher, to whom we were talking, shows us some funny videos on YouTube. It’s rude of me to not to look. He tells us that his job is unthinkable without technology; all of his students use iPads. An older American couple, who had been to the wonderful English Gardens in the city that day, grunted at each other without looking up.
Looking back at the scene, I can hardly help but think—perhaps they would have all had more fun by simply going outside, and playing in cow shit.
As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you. So if you liked this piece, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Liam.