The internet, smart phones, satellites and the host of other technological advances would have us convinced that the world has become smaller, that everything is available to us these days and that we now live happily like one great big family in a cosy global village. News from every corner of the world is fed to us 24/7 and even the thoughts of our friends, family and, more disturbingly, total strangers are constantly streaming in via Facebook and Twitter, if you allow them. I was at a dinner recently and while chatting to the person opposite me, the chap to my right who was engrossed in an I-phone that was surgically attached to his paw, suddenly burst out laughing and said, “Ha, ha, Tom Dunne has just found two Solpadine at the back of a cupboard. He’s delighted he can go to bed now and won’t have a hangover tomorrow.”
This caused a severe wrinkle in my brain. I immediately enquired, “Do you know Tom Dunne personally?” “No”, he said, “I just follow him on Twitter.” This man was a grown adult in his early forties, married with two small children and a good business. I casually asked if he always played with his phone like this. As I suspected he honestly informed me that his wife (who wasn’t with him on this occasion) had put a stop to his ‘phone checking’ at home as it had started to come between them. I’m not surprised. It is beyond comprehension that anyone should know or even care more about what people are putting on twitter than what their spouse/partner/family member is ‘tweeting’ live in the same room.
I have always considered texting and reading text messages at the dinner table or in a social setting to be rude in the extreme and they have caused a row or two in my own home from time to time. However smart phones have elevated the rudeness to levels I never even dreamt of. We are no longer contending with individual text messages but now there are the email, twitter and facebook alerts along with all the other information that floods in. Why do we have to know what all those people out there are doing? Why do we even care?
So we are supposedly ‘connected’ to everyone and everything when, we are in fact the most disconnected that we have ever been as a society. Yes it is certainly a paradox.
No sensational headlines
The Munster Express is 150 years old this year and recently I had the opportunity of looking back through the files to the first editions of the paper. I was surprised by many things. In the 1860s there were no sensational headlines on the front pages, indeed the front pages were dominated by advertising. As we were still in the grip of post famine emigration the ads were mainly for ways out of Ireland; steam ships destined for England, America and the land down under. The ad for Australia proudly boasted, “Steam to Australia in under 60 days”. Today many of us regard a 24 hour flight to Australia as being too long. These were alongside many ads for shops and banks in London. Inside the paper the local news was sparse as it was all news from Britain, Europe and further away. Who’d have imagined we were so outward looking in 1860. Contrast that with today when the strength of a local newspaper is that it is dominated by local news.
Moving forward to 1948 I was also quite surprised that the All Ireland win, while celebrated, was not the be all and end all as it would be today. The players were given a lengthy but modest review piece the week before and a one group shot and a ‘Well done’ the week after they won. There were not twenty seven pages of pictures and rhetoric accompanied by congratulatory headlines and hailing the individual hurlers as gods. In fact there were no stars. Our modern fascination with celebrity means that we want all the details all the time. Cheryl Cole breaks a nail and we all know about it; Ryan Tubridy splits up with his girlfriend and it is of national interest and makes front page news!
And yet with all this connection to balls of nothingness and the unimportant we are gradually disconnecting from a proper reality. While we think we are becoming more global we are in fact becoming more and more localised. We even live in increasingly smaller circles than ever before. Supermarkets and shops come to the suburbs these days rather than people going to the centre of towns. We choose most things on the proximity to our homes where possible; where we shop, restaurants, pups, gyms and other recreational activities. Our children tend only to mix with other children in our own socio economic groups. Our supposed busy-ness and all the stuff we now have to maintain mean that our weeks are pretty predictable and our social circles are getting smaller and smaller. We move in smaller geographical areas yet we really don’t know the neighbours at all.
All of this has an effect on our outlook. When you spend long enough with one group of people or in one area you begin to assume that the whole world is like that or at least use it as your frame of reference. This is what also leads to complacency and not being able to connect or empathise with difference any longer. Our government and judiciary are the biggest offenders. I would suggest that the two Brians and some of the country’s judges should be put on a bus and driven through the real Ireland; the one outside the gates of Leinster House and the comfortable private chambers of the court houses. They should be made experience for themselves the various levels of the ordinary. The unemployed, the single mother, the struggling self employed, the retired couple who’s pension has been plundered and even those of us who are just about holding it all together. While they maintain it is hard work balancing the books of the country, they should try balancing the average household books these days. The balance is often hard to find when you have a child in college, two in school, the mortgage payment pressing, the ESB bill on the doormat and a threat of redundancy hanging over you. It is up to all of us to see past the smoke screen and, where possible, stay connected to the real world. Our leaders would do well to take notice.