There are alarming predictions of the toll that artificial intelligence will take on jobs. Every technical revolution has replaced existing forms of employment but ended up creating many more jobs elsewhere. I doubt that this one will be different. Of rather greater concern is my perception that we are in need of artificial intelligence as a replacement for our own, which is diminishing rapidly.
We are informed that we are in the midst of a growing epidemic of loneliness. Yet my lasting impression of months of electioneering is that nobody wanted to talk at all. One is greeted with the little notice displayed at the front door ‘no unwanted callers’. (How on earth is one supposed to know if you are unwanted, until you’ve called?)
If there is an epidemic, it is an epidemic of these little notices. Some are more specific, such as ‘no canvassers’ or ‘no religious callers’. The best one I spotted this year was “no purveyors of religious wisdom of any kind”. Others are downright rude.
My correspondence by letter has almost completely dried up, to be replaced by a vast amount of email. This differs not just in volume however, people who sent letters to me composed them themselves, and took the trouble to purchase a stamp and make their way to a post box. By contrast, my emails have largely been composed by a website and arrive with other identical ones. Many even leave the instruction ‘Insert name of MP here’ unaltered.
Our reliance on electronic communication is unhealthy. High streets are dying because customers sitting at home prefer to shop alone and on-line. People spend hours alone ‘surfing the net’, exposing themselves to fake news and much worse. Often, the few personally composed emails that I do receive, ask for my comment on some daft story that they’ve seen online and believed to be true.
People spend their time communicating by text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever, becoming anxious and unwell as a direct consequence. Frankly, I resent it every time my telephone buzzes in my pocket to tell me that some other politician has re-tweeted a message first tweeted by the Prime Minister (how nakedly ambitious can you get?), or that a ‘friend’ wants me to ‘like their page’: What drivel human intercourse has been reduced to.
In the same way that refined white sugar is poisoning our bodies -we are just not designed to cope with it, so the sheer volume of electronic data, for which our brains were never designed, is similarly affecting us. Our attention spans are getting so short, and we can be persuaded to believe anything.
Even teenagers spend mindless hours gawping at electronic screens instead of getting out and doing something useful. When I was that age (14) I was the personal fag to a fellow who rejoiced in the title of ‘Captain of Boats’. One of my daily chores was to wash his rowing shorts: no detergent, only cold salt water. Now that is what I call living.