I feel the need to write about why I’ve been absent from cyberspace for almost a year.
First of all, three apparently unrelated incidents:
- A statistical survey I did in a Maths class back in the Eighties. One girl told me that each member of her family of five had a TV in his or her bedroom, which was also where they took all their meals.
- A report that Simon Cowell can’t use an ipod.
- A short story, written by E M Forster called The Machine Stops. In this futuristic fantasy, all the inhabitants of the earth live in a honeycomb of cells below the earth, where all their needs are provided by the Machine. Communication takes place through a round, hand held plate which glows before lighting up to reveal the image of the caller.
I like to think that I’m pretty savvy when it comes to digital technology; I bought my first computer in 1999 so that I’d be able to e-mail my daughter in China. In that instance, having a computer was a good thing. I don’t own an ipod, although I can see that they are handy on a journey or when out jogging. Like Cowell I sometimes find ipods intensely irritating and I preferred the days when listening to music was more of a social activity.
I was, however, horrified by the image of my pupil and her family sitting in their individual ‘cells’, eating their meals and watching TV. Also back in the Eighties, the daughter of a close friend told her mother that our families were the only ones who still sat round a table to eat a Sunday roast. I suppose that by removing watching television from the social sphere prevents rows over which channel but it also rules out the pleasure of shared social activity. In the twenty-first century we can now watch whichever programme we like, catch up using devices like BBC iplayer and watch DVDs; all without leaving our laptops.
Forster wrote his story before the First World War, well before the era of Facebook, Skype and ichat. The woman in the story, Vashti, knew thousands of people, but not face to face. When her son, who lived underground in the northern hemisphere – she lives in the south- wants her to visit him, she’s horrified:
“But I can see you!” she exclaimed.”What more do you want?”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love having from all over the world, but I did start to feel the need for more face to face communication and social interaction. Many people manage to get the balance right, but looking around me, I do see society moving in the direction of Forster’s dystopia.