Your drug of choice


Karl Marx was wrong. It’s not religion, but technology, that is the true opium of the people. Increasingly, a range of iPods, iPads, iPhones and conventional computers are enslaving humanity. We have become obsessed by small packages of plastic, metal and silicon and, like any addict, are gradually losing touch with reality.

Thanks to the ingenuity of Apple, Microsoft and a host of other organisations, you no longer have to hear actual sounds, instead you can listen to your MP3 player; you no longer have to talk to the people around you, but can witter on twitter; and you don’t have to see the sights in front of you, for you have a tiny plastic screen to absorb your attention.

As a result of digital developments, you too can live in a parallel universe ruled not by the laws of nature but by marketing and media interests. I would suggest that this is worrying. Indeed I would argue it is dangerous, and not just because you might be run down by a bus as you cross the road listening to your iPod and texting a friend.

The internet and other digital advances are marketed as means to set people free. In fact they are binding the chains of capitalism more firmly round us. Electronic gadgets have become must-have designer objects, yet they are not investment items you can keep for your children and be assured of their increasing value.

Instead they are the ultimate in built-in obsolescence. Whatever you spend on a gadget, you know that in twelve months time you will have to fork out another hefty sum, for the product will then be out of date. If you do not buy the latest model, you will find, for instance, your computer is no longer compatible with the rest of the network.

As Apple’s launch of the iPad 2 demonstrates, however high-tech an object you have bought, the makers will always have another scheme to render yours archaic. In the digital marketplace we see consumer society at its most extreme, with customers spending thousands of pounds on objects that will be discarded before three years are up. The makers of these products have ensured that whatever happens we will always go out and make another purchase.

Yet it is not simply through the never-ending cycle of updates and new releases that the digital world is entrapping us. The material we consume online, that we are fed by our dealers, are a means of indoctrination. Thanks to social networking sites we place vastly more material in the public domain. Information about our career, personal lives, music interests and friendship groups are all on the internet, for everyone to see. This enables far more astutely targeted marketing than ever before. Because it is targeted, it can be more effective.

These issues are, though, just the tip of the iceberg in comparison to the wider disconnect with reality the digital revolution has brought about. Absorbed with a distorted virtual world, we miss out on our surroundings. When this means we ignore such delights as spring flowers and birdsong, that is a shame for us. When it causes people to walk blindly past the homeless, the hungry, and the unwell, then it is a tragedy for humanity. Because we have joined a Facebook group, we feel we have done something to help the situation. Well, we haven’t. Not until tangible aid is delivered is the situation altered. All too often the internet is not a way of lobbying for assistance, but a substitute for action.

This brings me to the most important point of all. Ultimately, while we may live in a vicarious virtual world, we exist in reality. When the chips are down, it is the people actually surrounding us with whom we must interact. If you are hit by a car, or held up by an armed robber, it is the people at your side who matter, not the Facebook friends you’d barely acknowledge in the street.
In the end, reality matters.

Bess Rhodes


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