I am 29 years old. Is that old enough to qualify as being an old man? I don’t think it is, but I guess it depends how you look at it. Certainly, 29 does not constitute to old age in the physical sense, but attitude? Lifestyle? Views? I am always a couple of steps behind where technology is concerned. My first mobile was a hand me down from my mother that had to be carried around in a Morrison’s plastic bag because even as a Britpop influenced, parka-wearing teenager, my huge pockets were far too small for the brick sized device. She was rocking the Space, Spiders album in the nineties whilst I was weaning myself off The Beatles and onto Blur’s Parklife.
I am admitting, here in writing, that I am addicted to the internet. Not in the playful sense, but a genuine addiction that impedes my life. I’m not grumpy, old or at war with things moving on, in fact my life has been made a hell of a lot easier by the mobility offered by the internet. I remember the first time I owned a computer. My first job at 16 was at Netto supermarket and after buying a Playstation 2, I saved my money for a custom built PC from a friend who fixed and built them for a living. Remember those days? Open the computer, sit through the cacophony of woks being hit with metal spoons as the dial-up modem connected on the fourth attempt? You had to start loading up a page and then go get a cup of tea. Every page that needed loading would take about twenty minutes to fully process. I was enthralled, all the latest football news, downloadable wrestling theme tunes at my finger-tips. If I left it on all day, maybe a song would be completely downloaded by the time I returned from school. Twelve years on and I’ve visited seven different websites on my mobile phone before even getting out of bed on a Monday morning.
It’s actually changed the world we live in in a variety of ways. The problem is, so many people are hooked without even realizing. I’m strict with myself at times. If I am visiting my girlfriend, my phone goes on silent and I am fully in the room. That’s just the way I was raised. I got an absolute dressing down at seven years old because I became so distracted by the Sega Master System arriving that I did not pay the gentleman who we had bought it from any attention and it stayed with me. However, I often look myself in the mirror, appalled with the depths I stoop to. My old studio’s Christmas party, 2010, I found myself in the bathroom, not needing to relieve myself physically, but sat on the toilet with the lid down, loading up my Fantasy Premier League team on my mobile to see if my defender had kept a clean sheet in an otherwise meaningless game. If I am on the bus to town, five minutes after checking my email, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I am loading them all up again. It isn’t that I am expecting anything, more a habitual cycle that I have fallen into. It’s actually really nasty, a by-product of my job as a freelance designer. I am a prisoner of modern technology and its instant accessibility. If I am actually expecting a client email, I’m a nervous wreck. When any given email can contain a fee for a job, you cannot rest until it has arrived no matter how much you try. Every time I receive a query through my agent for a generously priced commission, it triggers an anxious ride of up to three or four days or a week, where I pester them, refreshing my email every ten minutes whilst out in public. Look around you, we’re all at it. On Saturday, I caught up with a friend who I studied with. Four of us sat watching the football in a York pub. I had my phone out on the table. My cycle went like this:
BBC Football latest scores (Leeds United score, also scores according to who I had picked on my £2 accumulator bet)
Fantasy Football website, checking live points and rivals team selections/performances
Twitter to see if anyone had replied to my ‘tweets.’
Email in case some desperate client is working the weekend and has sent me a bone.
This was repeated in the same order from about 12.30pm until 7.30pm.
Directly across from us, my friend pointed out a couple who sat facing each other on a table for two, heads looking down, not at the meals that they were supposed to be enjoying, but both staring into their Blackberry phones. I found it a very unsettling scene yet a reflection of the times. I’ll be sat at home, working away on a commission, and notifications will flag up on my Facebook telling me that somebody is in (X) place, In Manchester or wherever they are and at what time. I receive petition pleas on a weekly basis to try stop the governments using technology to keep an eye on us at all times but they’re probably already at it.
Ben Tallon: Can anyone sub me £400 so I can pay my tax on time?
Moira Stewart likes this.
There are lots of plus points to all of this. My job would be entirely different if it were not for mobile technology. There is no way I would be able to visit my parents like I did last week, logging onto their internet and working from my old bedroom on Friday whilst catching up. People can call the emergency services in the event of an accident in the most dire of circumstances. I can ask loved ones to text me to say they are alright after a walk home. But personally, I am addicted and it isn’t pleasant or easy to overcome. It used to be that when I wanted to lock myself away in my bedroom and just relax, I could choose not to pick up the phone. But since the advent of smart phones, I only have to lift my fingers and roll my eyes to text a friend or check my emails. It would be easy to say, ‘well, just ignore it or don’t do that.’ But there is this incessant underlying feeling that you are missing out on something really exciting or noteworthy. Now, you know that the person who’s call you have just let go to voicemail knows fine well that you always have your phone next to you and that you are an ignorant wanker. So you call or text them back, out of this technology fuelled guilt to say ‘sorry mate, will ring in a bit, on a deadline.’ But in doing that, the downtime is shattered and before you know it, you’re reading about somebody you have met four times’ opinion on the latest Saturday tea time talent show dirge.
If I leave the house and I am out with my friends without the opportunity to slip into the bathroom and pick up an email, I scramble back through the flat door, hurriedly flicking on the modem and powering up the laptop only to find that the extent of what I felt I was missing out on was an email from Ticketmaster and a ‘like’ on my comment on a friend’s Facebook status. The worst part of it all is the social blight that mobile technology has become. I often feel like taking a friend’s phone out their hands and smashing it on the floor. My perception of ignorance is not reciprocated by many other people and I am often left tapping my pint glass whilst my company ‘likes’ a status. I feel sorry for parents and grandparents who have missed out on all of this because whilst they were fortunate to grow up in an era of face-to-face socializing at the pub or cafe, they now have to sit and hold half a conversation because their son or daughter is smiling vacantly whilst they are really in a virtual conversation with whoever is at the other end of cyberspace, pretending to be with their own respective company. There should be counselling for the poor bastards who fall victim to this. Even now, tucked behind my Word document is my Firefox browser. Each second that passes, I grow more tempted to break from writing or working on an illustration and double check that nothing has changed online in the last three minutes. I just checked, and it hasn’t, but I’ll be back there in five more minutes if I can last that long. It isn’t unusual for me to leave the flat for a walk to the shop in the hope that when I return, the email has landed. I am waiting on several job queries this week and I consciously arrange and strategically place distractions and tasks throughout the day so that the waiting is bearable. I am one of a generation who will be the last people to have experienced the old school methods of human interaction at its fullest, so to me it is a little scary to see kids not out of nappies on Skype calls. Instead of Duplo it’s the CBeebies website. I think I preferred the 1980’s Hollywood film interpretation of floating cars and cyborg barmaids.