Radio: I Discuss My Contention That We Should Take a Break from Constant Phone and Internet Use with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

1.9.17

The Mediterranean Ocean off Sicily, photographed during a boat trip in August 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Regular readers will know that I just got back from a fortnight’s holiday in Sicily with my family, and that, after the second week, in which I was offline for the whole time, I returned to the UK and published my immediate thoughts about the benefits of sometimes switching off from the whole internet and mobile phone world in an article entitled, Switch Off Your Devices and Have a Week Off: Why Headspace, Silence and Human Interaction is Good for Us.

After publishing it, I was very pleasantly surprised when Chris Cook of Gorilla Radio, based in Canada, got in touch to ask me if I’d be interested in appearing on his weekly show to discuss it, and I happily agreed. Chris and I have spoken many times before, but always about Guantánamo, so I was delighted to be able to talk about another topic that interests me.

The one-hour show is available here (and here as an MP3) and my interview with Chris begins around 35 minutes in, after an interview William Laurance, an Australian research professor, who has been studying the impact of cars on wildlife, and is the author of an article entitled, Curbing an Onslaught of 2 Billion Cars.

In my analysis of the benefits of balancing our online presence with time off, I acknowledged that I work as an online journalist and commentator, and have no desire to put myself out of a job (or what passes for a job), but I was pleased to be able to express some of my doubts about possible downsides to our relationship with the internet and particularly with smart phones  — hand-held devices that would once have required an entire room to power them, but which are now ubiquitous, even though their advent is so recent that definitive assessments of their long-term impact don’t currently exist.

As well as worrying about the atomizing effects of mobile technology and the internet, I also have concerns about how all this technology also accompanies an increasingly mechanized world, the dangers posed by artificial intelligence (introduced in a guest post recently by my friend Tom Pettinger), and how fundamentally alarming it is that so many creative people are now required to make their work available for free, a shifting business model in which, often, the only people who are making a profit run, work for, or are shareholders of the giant tech companies who are eating up more and more of the world in a generally unchecked manner. People should be more questioning, I think, of the giant corporations at the heart of this supposed Brave New World — like Apple, Google and Amazon, but also other Silicon Valley success stories like Uber and Airbnb. For more on this, check out We need to nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon. Here’s why by academic Nick Srnicek in the Guardian two days ago, Secrets of Silicon Valley on the BBC, and, from July, The billion-dollar palaces of Apple, Facebook and Google in the Observer.

In my article, I was particularly interested in seeing if people have any enthusiasm for the notion of us switching off all our devices every now and then — a week here and there, perhaps one day a week when we all agree to switch off and return to the kind of social interactions that used to exist — and I remain fascinated by that idea, although I’ve had little feedback about it.

Do feel free to let me know what you think about any of the above.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Following on from my post-holiday article, ‘Switch Off Your Devices and Have a Week Off: Why Headspace, Silence and Human Interaction is Good for Us’, here’s my latest article, linking to an interview on that very topic that I just undertook with Chris Cook of Gorilla Radio in Canada, discussing the topic further, and with further thoughts expressed in my article. As well as further discussion of what I believe are the benefits of spending some time offline, I also express my fears about the unchecked power of the largest tech companies, and my concerns about the ways in which creative people are increasingly compelled to work for free, while the tech companies continue to profit. Hopefully you’ll have time to listen to the interview, and I’d be delighted to have your feedback.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Bill Gibbons wrote:

    I do a number of things which are healthy, often go to bed early (I love the mornings, and get up even if I have little sleep) I go to the gym, I meditate for a half hour or hour a day, I go on walks, plenty of human interaction.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And reading your comment made me think how we need to celebrate all these things, Bill. Good to hear from you!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Andy, what worries me most about this “new normal” – being connected all the time- is exactly that we project a lot of emotional energy on the internet, instead of doing it with the people and issues we care about- not online. So our commitment loses its strength. And we don’t care.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think that’s a good way of expressing it, Toia.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m also concerned about how we are disempowering ourselves economically, as well. We seem to be at a point where the tech companies are making all the money, and they’re doing that off free content provided by us, whether it’s our thoughts, our photos, or even work that requires much greater investment – music, for example. Everyone wants things for free, but although the creators are compelled to create for free, the tech companies are racking up bigger profits than ever, even though, in many cases, they just provide the software, and literally 100% of the content is provided free by users. Think about photo-sharing apps that are free to use. Handy, eh? But then look at how much money those companies are making, and realize how a handful of individuals are making an unbelievable amount of money because every time you share a photo for free, you’re providing them with the free content that accumulates to create their successful product, and their eye-wateringly huge profits.

  7. Panda Mery says...

    Andy, you may want to consider other discriminated minorities you may not be as familiar with before dissing the use of headphones in supermarket. Supermarkets are hell for all those who are noise and light sensitive, which is common about autistics. To avoid it being too painful, if/when I go to a supermarket I wear a cap with the visor low down, Bluetooth headset – either listening to a podcast or with nothing playing – and ear defenders on top of the headset. This is for self-preservation. Even though I often choose the manned tills for two reasons: the one you touched upon, ensuring people don’t lose their job, and also because the automated tills are so noisy beeping loudly all the time for no good reason. Coincidentally, last time we bumped into each other was at Hamja’s event at the Rich Mix where there were several autistics and you probably saw me wearing my red ear defenders as upstairs was awfully noisy.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    My apologies for any inadvertent persecution of minorities, Panda Mery. I had no intention whatsoever of slighting anyone with a valid reason for avoiding light and noise. My concern is only with those who isolate themselves when they have no reason for doing so, living in permanent bubbles out of contact wit the rest of the world.
    Good to see you at Hamja’s event, by the way – although I’m obviously so imperceptive that I didn’t pay attention to your ear defenders!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Cook sent the following response to the show from Janine Bandcroft, who, until recently, provided events updates for his show. Janine has a radio show here and is on Twitter here:

    (you can forward this to andy, if you’d like, and be sure he knows i really really respect his work regarding justice and especially guantanamo bay)

    in defense of the gadget:

    i ride the bus daily, and am always inspired to see many people reading books, or sitting quietly, or chatting with their neighbour. those of us on our phones (we’re usually in the minority) are likely doing things along these lines:

    – we might be connecting with friends we don’t often have time for because our lives are so busy juggling work and families and housework. when i get off the bus and enter my home i might have children needing dinner, plants that need watering, laundry that needs doing. i have a few precious hours before i have to prepare for the next day of work. the more computering i can accomplish during my commute, the more time i have for my family when i get home.

    – i might be checking on the news of the day, from sources that i have chosen and trust, so i can remain informed about local and world events. i could listen to a podcast of last week’s gorilla radio, or democracy now, which i couldn’t hear live because i was working at the time.

    – we might be accepting work shifts, making appointments, organizing our agenda, ignoring the pervy man who won’t stop staring at my breast. i can play jeopardy or words with friends and expand my brain function. i can read a book on my device. i can listen to my daily meditation. i can sort through my photos, upload to instagram, check my twitter feed.

    in addition to my phone offering me the opportunity to organize my life and connect with my friends and protect my personal privacy for a few minutes while i travel to work each day, i can also do these things while standing in a lineup at the grocery store or while waiting for a bus in the rain. having this incredible communication device/global library in my hands keeps me from feeling agitated and impatient. i can claim my own personal space. and, if i chose, i can put it down and talk to the people around me or read a book. but i don’t have to engage if i don’t want to. and i don’t have to snap at the slow cash clerk at the store because instead of tapping my foot and glaring at her/him impatiently, i’ve just had a friendly interaction with someone i haven’t heard from for years.

    about the social isolation, not making eye contact … you oughta try being a woman in this world. it’s so much safer when we don’t make eye contact. some days i’m just in a pissy mood and know that my eye contact will be disturbing to a stranger, so it’s better to keep it to myself. my phone gives me an excuse to be quiet, withdrawn, introspective. i’m often labelled “bitchy” if i dare have an emotion that isn’t what women are supposed to represent. i shouldn’t have to feel that i have to constantly be interacting, or entertaining, or making ridiculous small talk when i just don’t feel like doing it.

    of course there are people who abuse the technology. those people might be abusing me if they weren’t busy with their phones. thank goodness they’re distracted! and if they bother me, i can pretend i have a phone call, or call or text someone immediately because i have my safety device in my hand and at the ready.

    i appreciate the constructive criticism, but let’s not assume and then generalize about what people are doing. it’s a tool … it’s what you make of it.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Janine, and thanks, Chris, for forwarding Janine’s response.
    Well, it’s certainly interesting to have provoked strong reactions!
    Janine, you make a great case for smartphones’ assistance in helping people organise busy lives, and you also add an important safety angle from a woman’s point of view, which I had rather unhelpfully overlooked as a man (and for which I apologise), but my rather more nebulous fears remain about the psychological impact of smartphone ubiquity on society as a whole.
    The analogy that has just sprung to mind is alcohol, which many people use as a mild social lubricant, but which has a conspicuous dark side in the cases of those many people drawn into often dangerous and damaging addiction.
    I think overall, Janine, your constructive comments have made me aware that I should make it clearer in future that it’s the potential damage that smartphones and smartphone use can cause that concerns me, not people who are using them constructively!
    Good to hear from you.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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