THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE – Blackberry sheep
ACCIDENTALLY the other day I coined a phrase some of my email contacts found apt. I wasn’t insulting anyone; far from it – I have relatives and several friends who rely on their smartphones but are not slaves to those pocket computers. I was merely observing the rapidly spreading addiction in Barbados and elsewhere to the technology of our times.
Even further back – about four years ago – I predicted that real freedom would be experienced and enjoyed only by those who are able to untie themselves from the technology that surrounds us.
It is in this context that I return to the subject of our technological preoccupation with gadgets of communication to observe the growing flock of Barbadian BlackBerry sheep.
You see two or three of them in the queue at the bank, all texting or receiving or sending messages; on the pavement walking dangerously close to lamp posts and other fixtures.
Last Wednesday a young man walked straight out of a narrow gap on Station Hill directly into the line of traffic.
As I stood in a slow-moving line at the Licensing Authority, a 20-something lady carried two phones: one in her left hand, the other affixed to the strap of her leather bag. She sent a text on the phone in her hand while carrying on a conversation with someone through a tiny device attached to her right ear.
Sweeping Barbados at this time is what Sherry Turkle in her book Alone Together calls “the anxiety of always” – another apt phrase meaning that while constant connectivity can sometimes reduce anxiety, it is also creating new anxiety problems of its own.
As Ms Turkle says: “When parents give children phones there is an implied message ‘I love you and this will make you safe’.” In other words: “If you get into any difficulty, call me right away.”
Then there is the anxiety shared by Julia and her mother, an anxiety that was not there ten years earlier: Julia tells her mother where she is at all times. She checks in after school; when she gets on the bus; when she arrives home or at a friend’s home. Julia confesses that she feels “naked” without her phone.
In a few short years this phenomenon has arrived to fill a void in the lives of millions of inhabitants of planet Earth, at the same time distending the deep pockets of those who are exploiting this unquenchable thirst for constant connectivity. It’s a yearning to be wanted, to be loved, to be in contact.
There is no turning back. It’s like driving down a superhighway and suddenly encountering a cloud of fog. You dare not stop. A friend told me recently he can’t function without his smartphone.
United States’ President Barack Obama – a self-confessed BlackBerry addict – complained about a “24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter”, adding that “with iPods and iPads, information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment”.
Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively that technology shapes our consciousness. We will have to find a way to control this seductive technology. If we don’t it will control us. Of necessity, people will find a way to live in this brave new world. If Aldous Huxley could see it now!
I agree with Advocate columnist Janelle Husbands: “We are becoming monsters as a result of the constant need and ability to share information instantly with hundreds of people at the touch of a button.” She was lamenting the uncaring distribution of a video clip of a dying man minutes after an accident on the Adams-Barrow-Cummings Highway.
Ms Husbands concluded: “We can ill-afford to have a bunch of insensitive drones constantly connected to the Internet.”I call them sheep – BlackBerry sheep.
Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.