Modern Luddism

In The Midwich Cuckoos John Wyndham has his novel’s narrator enter a room where the principal character of the novel is listening to Bach on a record player. The character in question allows the piece to finish before he takes any note of any other presence in the room, at which point he observes; "We still lack a code for dealing with these innovations. Is the art of the musician less worthy of respect because he is not present in person?" The question of whether it is more polite to defer to the other person or the absent musician is perhaps even more pertinent today, as the usage of mobile phones continues to grow exponentially. For example, if one is in conversation when your phone rings, the emerging etiquette appears to be that the presence of someone stood in front of you is of less importance than the incoming call.

Technologies of this kind have often had an isolating effect, allowing their users to listen to music through headphones, play computer games on their own, or watch television broadcasts and videos on their own. The convenience and advantages of this devices are sufficiently well known (and advertised) that any re-iteration of these merits is unnecessary. However, it nonetheless seems the case that this liberating effect is contiguous to one of isolation.

This Christmas, I was given a mobile phone as a present. The reasoning for this is quite clear; it will be useful for select occasions, such as emergencies. No doubt. But it is difficult to tell whether its use might not grow to be rather more than that.

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