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Thursday, 13 October 2016

iPhone-ly Got Eyes For You



I remember the first time I laid eyes on him. His name was Norris Nokia; he was a little on the heavy side and with a tendency towards clumsiness, yet when he nuzzled against my ear we just seemed to...connect. He was my first, so it was all a bit of a novelty I guess. A traditional kind of fella, some might say outdated even, but reliable, practical and good in a crisis; it's with a hint of shame that I admit that, due to my younger fickle nature, he was traded in for a fitter, trendier model after a year or so. I can barely remember him now, if I'm honest.

As time went by I upgraded regularly, as one does, constantly searching for the best one for me - my forever partner. Unfortunately I don't think that exists in today's throwaway society. There's simply always something better just around the corner - and of course I have to keep up with all my friends. I had a brief fling with Bobby Blackberry but he wasn't known as 'Crackberry' for nothing; it was an unhealthy alliance.

My current squeeze is Ivan iPhone, a sexy little number with the whole package: looks, slim body, intelligence...and he says I press all his buttons. I just can't tear my eyes away from him; we're inseparable. He's very animated and ridiculously clever - he seems to know everything - although he never switches off, which can be a tad exhausting. Consequently he burns himself out quickly and loves regular mini-breaks to recharge his batteries. Some people say our relationship is unhealthy but I just can't help it - I don't feel complete unless he's right next to me. I can't even contemplate ever losing him; I'd be lost without him. Sometimes I can spend hours just gazing at him, oblivious to everything going on around me.

Did I mention I have a boyfriend? I know, I know...I do feel guilty, as I've neglected him for a while now. I suspect he may have a similar secret relationship going on himself though: things are becoming distant between us and we seem to be growing apart....

Sound familiar? As a nation - scrap that - as a planet, our obsession with technology is getting waaay out of control. Gone are the days of kids playing out in the street, hearing the sound of their tinkling laughter as they whizz past on their bikes; boys playing footy in the cul-de-sac, girls sitting huddled on the kerb, chatting. I remember chalking on the pavement and playing hopscotch outside the house, the whole street's children gathered round.

Now the residential roads are deserted - eerily silent save for the sounds of the traffic as a nation of zombies walk alone, heads bent at the neck, pale faces creepily lit up a ghostly white by their phone screens against the dark night sky. Where are all the kids? Goggled-eyed in front of various electronic gadgets indoors: phones, ipads, computer games; ashen-faced as they gawk open-mouthed for hours on end at one screen or another...or sometimes several at once. The idea of being more than a few feet away from a power supply is just too terrifying to contemplate; the colour drains from the phone-owner's face more quickly than the battery itself upon discovering there's less than ten per cent charge left. It's like a lifeline: the panic that sets in akin to that of a deep-sea diver realising his oxygen supply is about to run out.

It's learnt behaviour: I regularly see children vying for their parents' attention, as Mum buries her face in Facebook and shuts them up with a packet of mini cheddars. I can't say I blame her - I'd rather watch cute dog videos than listen to a two-year-old incessantly repeating "Mummy" too. Working in a shopping centre means I've witnessed countless head-on collisions as parents idly stroll and scroll - and little Jimmy gets catapulted out of the buggy like a crash-test dummy. "Whoopsie daisy!" says Dad brightly, as he plonks his concussed offspring back in the pram and slyly slides his phone into his back pocket. The whiplashed kid is too stunned to cry and instead sits stock-still, mute and wide-eyed, blinking rapidly. Instead of a dummy, Dad hurriedly hands the kid his phone as a pacifier - a quick app-tap and the child is instantly soothed by a Peppa Pig cartoon.

Other times I've seen people almost get mown down crossing the road, eyes down, headphones in, completely oblivious to the double-decker an inch from their face. If they glanced up they'd be horrified to see the whites of the bus driver's eyes, but nope, on they march, deftly side-stepping the other zombies whose feet fall within their downcast eyeline.

Where will this all end? Is the human race destined to wipe itself out due to vitamin D deficiencies, rickets, or Pokemon-related accidents? I'm fearful for our future as people have increasingly online relationships and the next generation are fed a steady stream of violence, porn, and BDD-inducing images of perfection via social media.

When we were young, taking a photo meant aiming a camera in the vague direction of the subject, clicking a button then forgetting about it, before trotting down to Boots on your return from Torremelinos, waiting a few days, then collecting 24 pictures of badly-focused holiday snaps with missing heads and red-eye. These days most people won't share a photo unless it's been retaken at least 15 times, cropped, photoshopped and filtered until it looks nothing like the original shot and the average-looking twenty-something in the frame now resembles a pneumatic Russian supermodel wearing a cartoon flower crown courtesy of their new Snapchat filter. I'll admit to pimping my pics via Instagram before sharing them myself on occasion. It's natural to want to show the best version of yourself but it's also all just so...exhausting.

On holiday with the mister on an idyllic Thai island, we'd stumble across countless loved-up couples creating full-on photoshoots at dawn. After two weeks of apologising for inadvertently stumbling into the shot we jokingly had a go at a photoshoot of our own....I'm still sniggering and snorting at the results as I type this. Let's just say we won't be gracing the cover of Vogue anytime soon.

But seriously, I'm scared for the kids of today. Research shows that heavy users of social media, particularly young people, are more likely to become depressed. More and more people are suffering from Internet Addiction. Lots of us wake up during the night and look straight at our phones (yep, guilty as charged), creating lasting insomnia. Like any addiction, most people are in denial about their usage; I have mates who are practically invisible on Facebook, but mysteriously seem to be completely in the loop with all the 'news' - down to who ate what for dinner last night. Hmm, must be telepathic I guess...

We, as adults, have to lead by example: put down our phones, particularly at mealtimes, and make an effort to connect face-to-face. I'm guilty of it myself: idly scrolling whilst half-listening to the conversation. It's just so goddamn rude.

For my part in this, I apologise. I'm going to make a conscious effort to perform a digital detox. I need the tech police to follow me about with a loudspeaker: "Put your hands where I can see them and step away from the iPhone."

We created this Frankenphone monster (half human, half mobile) so it's down to us to fix it. It'll be hard. You can't just take a tablet (no pun intended). We need to get the balance right. This poem by Sugar J and used on the latest Nationwide television advert sums it up perfectly.

Otherwise one day we may look up from our phones - all double-chinned, pale-skinned and hunchbacked, with the dark-ringed eyes of addicts - and realise that the kids have grown up, real-life adventures have passed us by, and we don't even recognise our friends and family at all...unless they're wearing a flower crown, of course.





This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

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