IT'S easy to forget how much and how quickly our world has changed. Thirty years ago, there was no internet or mobile phones, which makes you wonder what adults gave out about regarding young people. “The internet and mobile phones have detached our children from reality! All they ever do is stare down at their phones, their thumbs texting like mad!” This is bad, we’re told, because it means these youngsters have opted out of real life. The obsession with selfies is more of the same.
Granted, while you’re texting or doing a selfie, to a degree you’re detached from real experience. At the same time, if a youngster is texting, s/he is writing. Anyone who’s ever tried to encourage children to write in a classroom will know what a difficult task it can be. Yet here are youngsters, in their free time, writing at the rate of a mile a minute using their thumbs. In school, writing is a dummy run, it won’t affect anything in the outside world. But youngsters texting on their phones have a purpose, because they’re communicating with other youngsters. The writing is real and they relish it.
Taking selfies when confronted by a famous site or event or person also suggests opting out of the real world and opting instead for a shadowy world of images.. But why do teenagers – why do we – take selfies? Because we want to catch the moment, freeze time so that a visual record is created which keeps that moment with you forever. Some people say selfies are stupid, you should forget about the phone and just enjoy the moment. But when youngsters take selfies, whether they realise it or not, they’re trying to make the living moment last. Poets and philosophers over hundreds of years have struggled with that same problem: how can we make what is passing permanent, how can we take a moment in life and make it live indefinitely?
Like everything else, of course, the world of images can be abused. Over the past week it’s alleged that Stephen Nolan sent photographs of a naked man and threatened BBC staff with more if they didn’t book the man for interview. Last week, in apologising for what he’d done, Nolan said the image was sent only to “a long-term friend and peer outside work”. Why the photographs were taken in the first place is unclear; what is crystal clear is that Nolan was using them to put pressure on colleagues; the hope was that a selection from the world of still images would affect change in the real world.
In the south, Ryan Tubridy has found himself on the street, after years of working with RTÉ. Why was there so much debate about Tubridy? Well, partly because he was on radio five days a week, but I’d suggest it was all those Friday nights when he hosted The Late Late Show that made him a subject of public interest. Tens of thousands of people who’d never met him felt he was their friend, that they could trust him. When he appeared to betray that trust, a lot of viewers felt betrayed.
People talk about the dangers of AI, how artificial intelligence could emerge from the shadows of the internet and rule our beliefs and actions. As if AI was a new thing. Every time you Google for information, every time you write and predictive text jumps in and suggests what you’re trying to say, you’re experiencing AI.
Like it or lump it, the world of technology has been inserted into our ‘real’ lives and has, for the most part, made them better. If we insist that phone-gazing is bad for kids, remember. we said the same about TV, the same about cinema, the same about horror comics. The world, adults keep declaring, is going to the dogs. But it isn’t really. It’s just changing. Take away mobile phones, the internet, selfies, podcasts, and all our lives would be massively duller. If nothing else, texting from our phones has helped us rediscover our thumbs.