Tuesday 20 June 2023

Oases in the Unhuman World

 Lately I've been obliged to pay a few visits to my mobile phone providers' high-street shop. Each time I've been struck by the preponderance of bewildered oldsters (myself included) among the customers – and, thinking about it, I'm not at all surprised. These poor souls (myself included) are navigating a strange, recalcitrant and often downright incomprehensible world – that brave new one that came in with digital technology, the only technological development in my time that really did change things, often (as we're now discovering) very much for the worse. As no one could have failed to notice, more and more of the straightforward world we once knew and took for granted has gone, transplanted into the baffling, often inaccessible world of the 'online'. And as that process carries on inexorably, more and more of us are getting left behind, sometimes only in particulars, sometimes altogether.
  I am no stranger to the computer and mobile phone, but I find this new world hard enough to navigate – quite often impossible. For those older and even less tech savvy than me, and/or for those who simply don't have the technology and are living 'offline', things are far worse. These people are gradually being edged out, disenfranchised and rendered helpless in even the routine things of everyday life. A technology that was supposed to make life easier (aren't they all?) has made life in many respects very much harder, and for a growing number all but impossible. So much of the world we knew is now only accessible online: if you can't handle it, you're lost. All that was solid melts into air... Here's a simple particular: I've made several attempts to get my hands on a 'club card' for a supermarket in which I often shop (and which is full of good deals available only to cardholders). Initially I tried to get an actual physical card, but there now seems to be no way of doing that, so I resigned myself to getting 'the app' – except that that too proved impossible, as the website either refused to recognise me (or the password it had itself given me) or denied me access. I gave up, as I have given up on many similar online occasions: life is too short, and dealing with the online world too irksome. 
  This great migration to cyberspace is, it seems to me, part of an accelerating process of dehumanising – a process that was turbocharged by the great Covid panic and the inhuman measures imposed on us in that terrible period (to no good effect, as we now know). Today so much everyday business, often lengthy and unavoidable, can now be conducted without at any point making contact with an actual human being or hearing an actual human voice; indeed this is fast becoming the norm. Much business can only be undertaken it you have a mobile phone and/or computer; there is no other way. This is why there are so many of us bewildered oldsters in the phone shops: these oases are still, thank heavens, manned by living human beings. And, in the case of my particular shop, those humans are friendly, helpful and patient. The human world survives – but for how much longer? It's just as well that the rising generations seem to spring from the womb already armed with a formidable ability to navigate the online world. They're going to need it.


  1. Profoundly true. It is hard not to feel that there is a sinister aspect to this degrading of human closeness.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean, but I'm not sure the motivation is sinister. Maybe it's just driven by a technology that makes life easier for the corporate and institutional world, and increases profits – what's not to like (from their point of view)? But the effects are indeed dire...