Monday, 30 January 2012

Ash J. Lipkin, Editor-in-Chief of The Arbuturian; on the Information Age

I have a terrible memory. We’re talking both short term and long term memory recall. I once forgot where I’d put my glasses and spent ten minutes searching for them, only to glance in the mirror to see that I was wearing them. In the days before BlackBerrys and iPhones and email calendars, I would use post-it notes as memory aids (“You are wearing your glasses”), and I must apologise now because I am probably solely responsible for the devastation of large areas of rainforest due to my incessant note writing (I’m aware that a lot of paper in this country nowadays is FSC regulated and doesn’t come from rainforests, but humour me).

Yet even this didn’t solve the problem, as I would have several notes stuck strategically around my desk, sometimes a few notes layered on top of each other or arranged into the shape of a smiley face or a small elephant, depending on how creative I was feeling at the time, and occasionally a note would come unstuck and slip down behind the desk, only for me to find it a few weeks later and realise that I had forgotten to wish a friend happy birthday, or to collect some dry cleaning, or to board a plane.

Seeing as it’s the 21st century and all that jazz, and I like to think of myself as a thoroughly contemporary chap with all the latest modcons such as electric lighting and a high-voltage kettle and whatnot, the post-it note has now been replaced with my BlackBerry calendar. This is an extension of my brain, and it contains not only all of my meetings and social arrangements, but also smaller mundane reminders such as when to buy some more milk, or to make a reservation at a restaurant, or to board a plane.

I soon realised that if I ever lost my BlackBerry, my entire life would come to a standstill, so I decided to sync the BlackBerry with my email calendar to prevent this; and also to avoid the reoccurrence of a situation whereby I’d arranged to interview a rather notable celebrity but I had only made a note of this in my email calendar, and yes, you guessed it, I wasn’t at my desk that day and because the note wasn’t in my Blackberry too, I stood him up. I have since been blacklisted from most A-list interview opportunities, though I can’t say that my life is any worse because of it.

But now we have a new problem, or rather, a new irritation: the bombardment of information. I will be sitting peacefully at my desk, sipping a cup of coffee and staring at the wall, wondering if I should do some work or perhaps pop out to Selfridges for a spot of important retail therapy, when all of a sudden my BlackBerry will start beeping away, reminding me to board a plane in ten minutes, and no sooner have I silenced the blasted thing will my email calendar start shouting the same information at me. I think you’ll agree this is hardly conducive for peaceful contemplation on a busy working day!

Granted, I now miss fewer plane flights, but my stress levels are probably much higher than they were in the tranquil days of rainforest devastation. So where am I going with all of this? I’ve forgotten…Oh yes, my BlackBerry tells me that I was supposed to be writing about information overload in the technology age. Or technology overload in the information age…

So, it seems that with all these varied forms of communication – email, text, social media, paper aeroplanes with notes written on them (ah yes, another way that I’ve helped to decimate the green areas of the globe) - we are constantly assailed with a myriad of information, and our feeble brains are struggling to store it all. So we rely on those very same technological advancements as extensions of our brains, as ‘digital memory’, if you like, to help manage our increasingly busy and complex lives which are becoming so reliant on gadgets and ‘connectivity’. Technology, and the internet in particular, allows us to access a wealth of information and learning opportunities, as well as increasing the size of our social networks, our business reach and the ways in which we can customise and extend our lives, our homes, our bodies and our minds. It’s all rather dizzying.

But what would happen if we unplugged it all? What would happen if I suddenly flipped a switch and all of your iPhones and iPads and computers suddenly vanished in a puff of smoke? Besides the fact that the insurance industry would collapse, and you’d all be pretty upset with me, and I suppose the stock markets would cease to exist and the electricity grid would go kaput and global communication would be put back into the Dark Ages…actually nothing would happen. We’d all still be here, with food and shelter and water, and if you’ve watched enough episodes of Ray Mears or Bear Grylls, you might have an idea how to build yourself a fire too. The world would be silent, and we’d simply exist, in harmony with nature and the rainforests that are disappearing like those post-it notes down the back of my desk. We’d huddle around the cosy fires in our back gardens, marvelling at the pitch black London sky, able to look up and see the stars for once, and we’d turn to each other, to our friends and loved ones, and we’d say, “Ah, now I get it…this is what life is really about.”

Now, where did I put my glasses…?

Ash J. Lipkin is Editor-in-Chief of The Arbuturian, a magazine for the foodie, the stylish, the explorer, the artistic, the culturist, and the idler: www.arbuturian.com

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