If you took a quick look at me and my immediate family on a typical meeting, chances are you’d see us sitting around on laptops, computers and phones, appearing to completely ignore each other. A depressing image of the impact of modern technology, writes the reactionary hack in my head, undermining the traditional family unit, replacing simple joys and pleasures with a bovine, complacent contentment. My question this week is: does the hack have a point? Is technology driving us apart?
I’m not going to pretend to seriously contemplate that question. The lie of older pastimes being any more family-oriented is pretty easy to see through. I can remember the television and radio in particular being far more disruptive influences on communication and common interests, but even the threat of more healthy, intellectually-demanding or sociable activities always loomed over us. In a worst-case scenario, this could lead to charades or Monopoly. Let’s all get together and do something, the idea appeared to be, anything to avoid actually talking to each other or enjoying each other’s company. I might sound like a petulant teenager when I say this, but ‘family activities’ are inherently totally fascist. God. Now, I do have some sense of scale. I’m not going to compare the desire for family closeness to the activities of the National Front. Family activities are only a very little bit fascist. On the petulant teenager scale of fascism, the family activity ranks at about three milli-fascisms, making them more fascist than almonds but less fascist than a coracle (but more fascist than multiple coracles, which are of course communist). I should probably add that I tended to enjoy the stuff we did ‘as a family’.
But fascist ideology and family activities have a surprising amount in common. In both cases, the individual identity is subsumed within an assumed collective interest. In both cases, the collective interest is in fact more closely related to a received, warped sense of morality and duty than the genuine feelings of any of the collective’s members. The only real difference between the two is that one of them can lead to atrocities such as half-term visits to the zoo, and should therefore be treated extremely carefully and with great sensitivity.
I don’t have a problem with what we did, as such. As I’ve mentioned, I really quite enjoyed most of it, and the few things I didn’t enjoy were quite tolerable. It’s just that if your main concern is to promote real family togetherness, a family with strong relationships, built on mutual respect and genuine understanding, then the traditional model of family activity is flawed. There’s still good things about it. It feels good to do things together. It’s just not really about the other people in the family as much as it is about a nebulous idea of ‘family’. What I’ve noticed about the advent of technology is that, partly due to social media, partly due to staying connected more, and partly just because of the technology itself, we seem to have a much better sense of who the other people in our family are, as a whole. The videos that entertain us, the issues that enrage us, our political stances and our philosophical foibles.
Now, we take things from our own lives and share them with each other, which can bring open-minded families closer together than ever before. The laptops that initially appear to be taking all of our attention are constantly being flicked round to show each other what’s going on, what in particular has grabbed our attention or interest, a job or volunteer position that someone might be interested in, or events like stand-up comedy and music that we might (or might not) all be genuinely interested in going to. That simply can’t happen with television, nor can it happen with the overwhelming majority of books. Are there issues with the new way of living? Absolutely. Eye-sight problems are the main concern, but there’s also been a statistically significant increase in lolling about doing sod-all .
However, in terms of family, I think the reactionary (fifth) columnist in my head can shut the hell up. Technology is bringing us closer together than ever before. The appearance, the teenager or older child utterly engrossed in the glow of the blue screen, might look scary and alienating, but I’d be prepared to wager that if you showed a real interest in what they were looking at they’d be thrilled to share it with you.
Actually-kind-of-interested in the blank planet.