17 August 2015
Our Obsession with Electronic Devices
by David Tang, ft.com, 24 April 2015
‘In any vast lift lobby, there would always be an ocean of people moving with bowed heads and arched elbows’
Has the practice of looking at an electronic device as you go about your daily business reached epidemic proportions? Is there a cure?
There is absolutely no cure in sight. Forget the use of these devices at home and in the workplace, where the practice is already rampant, it is also prevalent everywhere else: restaurants, cinemas, concert halls, museums, galleries, parks, pavements and zebra crossings. There is now no stopping urban populations around the world being obsessed with their little electronic machines. It is as if nobody can afford to miss out instantaneously on any message or news, personal or otherwise, urgent or not urgent. All of our fingers are now trained to clench our precious devices which have become extensions to our hands.
I recently carried out a series of experiments in Hong Kong, London and New York in which I entered a lift and counted the number of passengers staring at their devices as they made their short vertical journeys. Not only did I find that it was always more than half of them, I also noticed that most had their eyes already transfixed on their screens as they entered. While waiting for a lift door to open I often made a bet that someone would emerge with their eyes looking ahead rather than into their hands. I never won. In any vast lift lobby, there would always be an ocean of people moving with bowed heads and arched elbows. It is astonishing how quickly the invention of handheld electronic gadgets has brought about a change of vernacular behaviour — I can think of no other instance that has led to a more significant or faster infestation. It resembles a plague.
In China, the government has labelled anyone using the internet for more than six hours a day as suffering from a clinical disorder. To combat this “electronic heroin”, there are now a plethora of camps and rehab centres specifically set up to “cure” the estimated 20m teenagers who have become “addicts”. This is the frightening angle of a future that we now take for granted. Is there an easier and less sinister way in which we can re-educate everyone on the danger of this epidemic? Is there an amusing way in which we can teach people to wean themselves off this unhealthy habit? It all looks fairly innocent at present because everybody does it and it is socially encouraged, especially among young people. Do we need to worry about them, or will they be much smarter than us old fogeys? And yet our daily lives seem to be heading towards a zombie zone. How does one cure nascent zombies?
Is it rude to give a T-shirt with a Velázquez painting printed on the front to a friend who is a lover of art? Of course, it is partly meant as a joke, but it actually looks quite nice. Would my friend think I was making fun of him, or would it be within the parameters of humour and beauty?
To give someone a T-shirt printed with a famous icon is not rude but dull and clichéd. It is as if somebody devoid of imagination has sauntered through a boring museum shop and, having found a few T-shirts with famous images, thought “That’ll do” and settled for a couple as presents. “No, thank you,” is my immediate reaction. But if I were to be tortured to accept a T-shirt with an image, I would choose a painting by Rothko. Those who are ignorant would just think it was a couple of blotches of paint in vermilion and magenta, whereas the cognoscenti would recognise the subtle sophistication and meaning of such an image. It would certainly be much more chic than a figurative Velázquez. Mind you, for dwarfs, I suggest a figure by El Greco, which would offer an optical elongation.
Sometimes, T-shirts with words can be amusing, although the funniest ones are usually rude. As a stylish alternative, one could print a poem, or part of one, but upside down so that the wearer could keep looking down at it and learn it by heart.
On mine I would, perhaps, print Chaucer’s great opening lines in The Canterbury Tales about spring, the time when T-shirts can start to be worn: “Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote/ The droghte of March hath perced to the roote/And bathed every veyne in swich licour/ Of which vertu engendered is the flour.” It might appear a little pretentious, I admit, but it also makes a statement that the most casual garment can be turned simply into blissful erudition.
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