Letter: Dawn of the Digital

There’s a revolution going on, and it’s technological. This we know. But did anyone expect it to overtake us so fast? This appears to be evolution on an exponential curve; but to where? After all, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. And that applies as much to what technology potentially enables as anything else. To my mind, technology should facilitate better lives and more joyful and productive days by making certain tasks easier and more efficient, and obviating others entirely. For example, grocery shopping via the web for delivery of essentials means no more cumbersome carrying. Online banking sped up the movement of money and simultaneously ended the furious hunting for cheque books. Or my current favourites: the ‘Up’ smart wristbands by Jawbone that promote healthy living by monitoring everything from your heart rate to daily activity levels and the quality of your sleep; the Shazam app that can identify any song in seconds and provide you with links to download it; and the Bypost postcard-maker app, which allows you to create a physical card sporting your own photos, but to ‘mail’ it from your phone. This is progress! (For the sake of snappy letter writing, I’m obviously skimming over the miracles possible in science and medicine.)

But kids using text speak to write essays and its corollary, the increasing lack of even an elementary understanding of grammar or punctuation: this is technologically induced regression. Today, arguments are commonly conducted using 140 characters or less, in public; emoticons replace articulate expressions of feeling; and the prevalence of bite-sized news-lite destroys debate. From here it’s surely a short hop to children reared on Facebook Chat, computer games and easily accessible pornography being unable to form intimate relationships because they haven’t learnt to interact with real-life human beings! How can we expect the next generation to develop the skills required to construct a compassionate defence of something, anything, they believe in, personally or professionally, if this is the emotional landscape in which they grow?

I’m putting my faith in action and reaction. Whenever a particularly strong cultural shift occurs, the opposite always develops by way of natural order. In terms of lifestyle, I see the revived enthusiasm for baking, crafts and gardening as the beginnings of the pendulum swing away from techno-dementia. And let’s not forget the increasing sales of tickets to hear live music and the resurgence in popularity of theatre. This already suggests that as the possibility for artificial everything increases, so a craving for the slow and authentic begins to return. To be clear though, I’m not remotely advocating a wholesale rejection of technology. On the contrary, I feel the possibilities are tremendous. What I’m saying is let’s not squander the infinite, and gloriously messy, complexities of the real and emotive in favour of the essentially cold left-brain pragmatics of technology. For me, these include: revelling in the Sunday joy of spreading a proper newspaper across the kitchen table, and squabbling over who gets which section to read first; scrapbooking with glue sticks and scissors; ink pens and calligraphy; the sound of silence; conversations, in person; the weight, feel and smell of a new book, or notepad; letters; pauses for thought and spaces to think. I believe there’s still room for it all, and it would be a greater shame to lose some of these very human obsessions than forgo another app to monitor your calories. It’s all about balance.

 

First published as my Editor’s Letter in the September 2013 edition of ELLE Decoration UK

ELLE Decoration cover September 2013

ELLE Decoration cover September 2013

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