Way back in the digital Stone Age – pre-World Wide Web – Bruce Springsteen’s song 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) was an early cry of anguish as the wave of empty information started to wash over humanity.
It chronicled the anger of a man whose TV “bouquet” had nothing worth watching, despite the fact it offered 57 different channels.
He sings: “So I bought a .44 Magnum, it was solid steel cast / And in the blessed name of Elvis, well I just let it blast.”
That was a nod to the story about Elvis shooting a TV set in desperation. It’s almost 30 years since the Springsteen song debuted and that information wave has long since turned into a tsunami. And, in common with the real natural phenomenon, this digital tidal wave has left wrecked lives, families and careers in its wake.
Hold up, I hear you say. This internet and digital world has made our lives so much easier in so many ways. And you’d certainly be correct in that. We can communicate across the globe instantly, from devices which are not tethered to any particular physical place. We can see loved ones in real time on screen and we can send them documents, electronic cards and even presents (as well as money) without leaving the comfort of the chair in front of our computer screen … or even without moving our bum off the couch while we use our smartphones.
And social media, I hear you point out, has made it much easier to find long-lost friends (or lovers) and to maintain those friendships in a much easier way.
Indeed, it has – but there is a dark side to the internet. And that is fundamentally because human beings are analogue systems – and always will be.
Let’s take social media. Someone told me the other day that depression is exploding around the world. People who use Facebook for an hour or more a day, he said, are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression than people who don’t.
That echoes the Springsteen song in the silent question many social media users ask: If I have so many friends/followers, why am I so lonely? Facebook can sometimes exacerbate people’s feelings of inadequacy: do I really need to see that the oke I went to school with is now a billionaire with a gorgeous trophy wife, a yacht and a Lamborghini? If I am single, getting older, does it really help me to see all my friends married and playing football with their kids in the park?
Twitter is even more destructive to fragile souls than Facebook – because it is a toxic cesspit where, somehow (perhaps because it is in “cyberspace” and not “real”) people reveal their worst sides. Vile words you would never utter to another human being, face to face, are now not only acceptable, but the way things roll on Twitter.
Being trolled, and insulted, on Twitter, proves the hollowness of the phrase “words can never harm me”: the barbs there are much sharper because everybody can see your humiliation. What’s the answer, then? I don’t think it lies in a solid steel cast .44 Magnum.
Perhaps one needs to have an “analogue adjustment”. Sit in the garden on one of these fine spring days … with a book?