Having my ear close to the ground these days like a Native American (my name would probably be Running Bowels or Talking B*ll*cks or something like that) I understand that due to the reliance on digital services in place of more traditional face-to-face interaction during COVID-19, the advance of said digital technology has leapt forward about five years.
I was privy to a presentation a couple of weeks ago by an agency, whom I still don’t understand their function, where they projected what our world and society might look like in ten years time based on current patterns, developments and trends. In a nutshell, to me, it read like the most disturbing science fiction novel in history. I have read my fair share of Orwellian depictions of a dystopian future, as well as enough Philip K Dick work to stop a robot in its tracks to see that this future we are promised, full of digital wonder is surely a modern day miracle. I say this sarcastically of course. It suggests that, for example, instead of going out to work, we will all work within a game platform. We will go to the cinema within this fake reality too, along with socialising. Most dating is already done online these days, that’s nothing new, and many of us belong to communities on social media, conversing with people we have never met, but this is alongside mixing with work mates at least in a real-world situation. In my notebook to the side of me while the presentation was going on, I wrote the phrase, “Are we losing sight of what makes us human?” Existing digitally will only encourage us not to mix with real people, staying solitary instead stepping outdoors looking for real face-to-face interaction, and emphasising the already evident downturn in societal interaction to the point of normalising it. This will be music to the ears of gamers and binge-watchers worldwide who never get out of their pyjamas of course. Pandora’s box has been opened and will never be shut. As I tend to think these days, just because we can, does it mean that we should?
The subject of the spectacle shifted to healthcare, how all these advancements can prolong life, treating many diseases, but my worry is, what about mental health? The generations behind me are already seeing dramatic rises in mental health problems like depression, anxiety along with physical illnesses and conditions like diabetes, and bizarrely rickets. These same generations also, coincidentally spend more time in front of screens, on various social media platforms and gaming platforms than previous ones. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to draw the parallels. Whilst teens today fire up their games consoles, excited to play, only to have to wait two hours for it to carry out an update, and then get abuse in their headset from some nutter on the other side of the globe, I switch on my 1996 Sega Mega Drive, begin playing relatively instantly, and only get abuse from the nutter that is me.
Surely these problems will grow worse? Does it matter much if we are living longer if we are spending those extra years with troubled mental health? It reminds me of the old fact about vegetarians living longer than meat eaters by an average of ten years, to which the response is usually about those ten years being ten miserable bacon-less years.
On my evening walk that day, I began to look at the positives. A more sedentary population could mean less carbon emissions from travel. It could also see a shift in people spending less time outdoors, meaning nature might get a break thanks to reduced human activity. To those of us that hold the torch for the outdoors and the freedoms and benefits it provides us with might find our favourite places less littered. The downturn in carbon from travel however may be offset by the upturn in the need for servers to run and host this new digital age. One source estimated the carbon footprint of this would be equal to the carbon footprint of Japan.
So, is it time for me to go analogue, dig a bunker and start collecting tins of beans? No, definitely not. It’s a sign that I’m on the right track for me, and I’m possibly one of the generations that won’t necessarily have to sign up fully to this way of living just to function. By the time this derelict utopia arrives, I’ll be either dead, retired or living in a campervan in the wilderness, listening to Showaddywaddy LPs on a wind-up gramophone player, which at this rate will be Aldi car park, 600 yards down the road.