Friday, 27 November 2015

Insularity – the way of the world

“The world’s going to end up with everybody sitting in their room punching keyboards.”Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015).

You know what? Everybody keeps banging on about 'digitalisation' as if it's a great thing. But when you really sit down and think about it, it's not that great at all. In many ways it's disastrous because it leads to a state of insularity, if that's a real word. The internet might be convenient in terms of booking flights on line, buying stuff on line, sending an email and so forth, but it's also there to enable those using it to simply 'stay in' – a phrase I used to dread when I was a kid. "Well, if you haven't got any money, you'll just have to stay in," my mum and dad might have said, and I'd end up walking the dark suburban south London streets in the cold, possibly ending up at a mate's house, but at least I'd be out and not just sitting in my bedroom staring at the walls or thinking about what could have been.

Today, however, the internet is all about 'staying in'. It's all about avoiding the need to go out and meet people. People 'stay in' a lot these days, watching crap like Homeland and other ridiculously long American television series, such as Breaking Bad, which are produced with 'staying in' in mind.  They prompt people to engage in marathon 'watchathons' – that require staying in – during which time they sit there in front of a television set with a large bag of Doritos (or worse) and a can of lager doing nothing but watching the box. No conversation, nothing real, and at the end of it they just have the satisfaction, when they're next in the office, of saying they've watched the whole of series one or two or whatever. How fucking boring have their lives become? These are the people who have gym membership or keep a stationary bike at home in the spare room – anything but getting out in the real world on a real bike and riding some real miles.

That whole sense of community is just being taken away from us and we're all left languishing in our rooms, some of us thinking dark thoughts that might one day translate into some atrocious internet-inspired crime. "Well, we never saw him. He kept himself to himself," they might tell a television news reporter at the scene of the crime. In fact, wasn't there a case recently when somebody committed a crime inspired by watching Breaking Bad?

Online shopping. Why? People moan about their high streets becoming ghost-like with boarded up shop fronts and a general sense of decay. It's because people don't go out anymore, they're fooled into thinking that it's dangerous out there, when it's not, and they prefer to remain in their hovels awaiting the delivery truck and only venturing out to the convenience store at the end of the street if they run out of junk food.

Our insularity started long before the Internet. It started with personal stereos – a piece of technology that enabled us to listen to music without anybody else butting in. So we sat on trains and buses, headphones on, ignoring our fellow human beings – the very act of wearing headphones is a way of saying 'fuck off, I don't want to talk to you" – and locked ourselves away in our own worlds, oblivious to everything else going on around us.

Now you could say that we're being insular when we read a book and block out everybody else around us, but that's not it, we're still in the real world, sitting next to somebody, perhaps, on the bus or train, we're still part of what's going on in the world. The worst thing about social media – Facebook, Twitter etc – is that it gives us an opportunity to withdraw from the world and communicate remotely.

"We keep in contact on Facebook," I heard somebody say earlier today. What does that mean? It means we rarely meet up in person these days, neither of us could bear that, so we simply send each other the occasional message via social media to let each other know we're still alive – even if they live just a few yards apart.

We all stay in. Our food is delivered to us in our 'cells', we avoid face-to-face contact and much prefer to keep in touch electronically, we buy books on Amazon rather than visit the library or bookstore, we book flights online in preference to visiting a travel agent, we download music instead of visiting a music shop, and because supermarkets sell alcohol, we buy lager on the cheap and then moan about pubs going out of business.

The Windmill, Wallington – gentrified into Hotrocks
Pubs used to be a focal point, a place where people met to engage in conversation and laugh and joke and play games. Now, they're closing down or, worst still, undergoing a process of 'gentrification' – meaning they're no longer for the working classes. "Pubs are more like restaurants these days," I've heard people say morosely.

Why is it that we prefer to stay in to watch satellite television and drink canned beer? Or go round somebody's house for dinner? Money is the answer. Or rather a lack of it. People simply can't afford to go to the pub every night like they used to.

Another way of looking at it, of course, is that we all simply hate one another. We've had enough of the back-biting, the unnecessary one-upmanship, the rich and the poor, the haves and have nots, the resentment, the jealousy, the pointless envy and all those negative thoughts that eventually creep in. "Did you hear what he said?" "I don't believe a word of it, frankly." "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he." Who needs it?

Perhaps that's one of the plus points of digitalisation: we don't have to put up with one another any more. Instead of visiting the pub where we might meet somebody we don't like, we can simply stay in, texting people instead from the safety of our virtual world. We can don our headphones so that we can listen to our music in peace without getting a running commentary from that bloke who's really into his music. "There's nothing he doesn't know." Oh really! Well I bet he can't guess what I'm listening to! Ha ha!

And perhaps going round to somebody's house for dinner is better than an extortionate restaurant meal where the pretentious food and service are never, ever up to scratch and definitely not worth the tip you feel obliged to give. I rarely tip in the UK these days because the experience is invariably shit and I hate those bastards who like to tip generously.

"That's a tenner each, then."  
"No it fucking isn't, you cunting cunter! Piss off!"

I think a move to the Outer Hebrides might be a good idea. Bracing walks on lonely beaches, a crofter's cottage and being cut off from civilisation for months on end. No television, just a radio and a few books – and a bicycle. Possibly a dog for company and a boat.

"You're breaking up..."

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