BOnly connected: while writing this article, James Delingpole looked at 51 emails, joined a Facebook debate and checked his Twitter pages Photo: Eddie Mulholland
A friend of mine was driving his family back from their half-term hols in Cornwall and the journey was taking far longer than it should. Two hours in and Tom’s fingers were starting to twitch. After four hours, he’d had enough.
“What are you doing?” said his wife Kate.
“Er just, you know, um checking my emails,” said Tom.
“But we’re on the motorway, we’ve got two kids sleeping in the back and YOU’RE DRIVING!” Kate screamed.
When Kate told me this story over dinner the other day, I think she expected me to be horrified. But I’m afraid my sympathies were all with Tom. Sure, it’s not the safest thing in the world to be fumbling with a BlackBerry while simultaneously trying to steer your family down a motorway at 70 miles an hour. But when the voice in your head is saying “Must check those emails. Muuussst check those emails,” what is a guy supposed to do? Ignore it?
What Tom and I are apparently suffering from is the tyranny of email – which also happens to be the title of a despairing new book by John Freeman. Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, decided enough was enough when he popped out with a friend for some coffee and came back 45 minutes later to find 72 new messages “marching down the screen like some sort of advancing army”.
According to Freeman, the communications technology designed to bring us together is driving us apart. Where once we used to interact with real people, we now content ourselves with shallow cyber-friendships on Twitter and Facebook, replacing meaningful conversation with terse 140-character messages and glib one-liners calculated to shock, amuse or annoy.
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