Some topics are better left avoided. A couple of weeks ago I broached a subject with someone closer to me than seems wise on their part. I was met with a torrent of invective, accusing me of being out of touch, insensitive and irrationally negative about a section of society as comparatively blameless as Michael Gove’s chauffeur.
And it’s obvious to me now that I’m in a rapidly shrinking minority. The target of my complaint is becoming the norm in a way that raising your right arm seemed perfectly natural in Dusseldorf a few decades ago despite most people doing it having never grassed up or gassed up a Jew. I would do well to shut my trap on this topic, say nowt, accept reality.
Then they came for the Bing users, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Bing user.
The tube pops out into the open air one station before I get off, unless I’m planning a unscheduled paralytic sojourn in Totteridge, which doesn’t happen as often as I deserve. No matter what people are doing before train sees sky, they are all about to stop doing that. To a man and woman, they all hear the whoosh of the change in surroundings and immediately think: “Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck something might have happened I don’t know about.”
It’s interesting to see a carriage full of people reaching for their smartphones to check which worlds have collided in the 26 minutes since they last had reception. I like to think they’re checking for updates from CERN, or that washing machine that bloke in the t-shirt covered with tits dropped on a comet. Maybe they’re looking up whether Edward Snowden has finally tipped us into Armageddon, or perhaps reading an incisive article on whether nine decrepit old gits are the best people to decide on whether two gay people in love should be allowed to marry. I reckon I could check whether the Russian bombs have started falling by simply looking at the horizon but I guess it can’t hurt to find out the exact casualty figures. Then share them, with #thatstheendofthatthen and #someoneleftthegasonlol.
Social media is a blight in itself but I find it fairly easy, for the most part, to ignore and deride it in silence. If you people really think you’re so interesting that you need to keep tabs on one another throughout the day, be my guest. I’m boring, unashamed of it, and I assume others are too.
But must you constantly stare at it? Considering the race is dooming itself in countless other ways it’s hardly important that people are turning their brains to goo by swapping real-world surroundings for ten square inches of unnatural light at an elevation that will give them intense back pain in their forties. But when you make me move out of your way as I walk down a pavement because you’re lost in a world of gurning imbeciles updating you on what they do/like/eat/want/think/buy/make – it’s never make – I feel I have the right to stand in your path, wait for the moment you realise your feed has been interrupted and bellow “WE’RE HERE” into your uncomprehending mug.
Of course, they’re useful to have. Having the internet in your pocket allows simple resolution of an argument about whether Colin Caldwell was top scorer for Plymouth Argyle in 1977 or the bloke who played George McFly in Back to the Future II. I don’t know how life could continue without instantly being able to prove someone an idiot for claiming France has a bigger land mass than Chile, unless there’s a library somewhere the Tories haven’t shut yet.
But surely I can’t yet be alone in feeling like a fool constantly staring at a box in my hand. If I don’t have a book or a paper, I’ll sit in a tube carriage or in a pub simply looking around, seeing things, thinking and overthinking, planning and daydreaming. It sits in my pocket, idle. What would I look at if I had it in front of me? Do I lack the imagination to make the most of the frighteningly powerful tools at my disposal?
Yesterday I saw a middle-aged woman in a suit gawping open-mouthed at a grid of what appeared to be fruit, which she was matching somehow to make disappear. Two apples – pop, gone. Four pears in a line – vanished in a twinkle of stardust. She lives in a magical realm of glowing bananas and superpowered grapes, as though it wasn’t Pac Man and Space Invaders that won the electronic wars fought in smoky back rooms in the 1980s but Cherry Bar Electrocoin and Sevens & Melons.
Fuck that. I used to play chess on the thing occasionally but I packed that in when I realised I was staring, forever staring, at the box in my hand in just the way you can imagine governments the world over really want us to. Shut up, buy stuff, then die. The other day I saw a man cross a reasonably quiet road in front of a car. Earphones in, phone in hand. The car was turning, going slowly. It stopped, gave him a short beep. He carried on. A longer beep. He looked up, raised his free hand in distracted apology, looked back down and carried on across the road. Shut up, buy stuff, then die.
Last week, for the three-minute ride between the last two stops on the tube, I faked a smartphone in my hand, pretending to stare at it intently, tapping and scrolling all about. Not one person in the full carriage noticed me doing this. To anyone looking at me I would have seemed like the latest lucky winner of Serco’s takeover of the Northwick Park Mental Health Unit.
But no-one was looking at me, because no-one is looking at anyone. Pocketless women walk everywhere with their phones in their hands, in case of a sudden buzz or chime alerting them to a selfie they couldn’t have waited to see of a fuckwit on a beach somewhere. There’s a news report on a rapid increase in people having belongings snatched by blokes on mopeds, but still phones stay out in the open.
The next time someone walks into me with a phone in their hand it will tip me over the edge into tripping people over and running away giggling territory. Mind you, if no-one ever sees me, I can never be caught. I should have thought of this earlier. But as a member of the vocal minority, I implore you to at the very least look where the hell you’re going. By all means check them when you’re stationary but please, we have enough sodding zombies on TV these days without the living dead taking over every real-world pavement as well.