Monday, 8 July 2013

The End of Civilization As We Know It: 3

Martin Robbins is fed up with Susan Greenfield telling us that the Internet is destroying our brains, society and everything her generation holds dear. But you don’t need to be under 30 to be sick of her carping. Susan Greenfield is 62. I’m not. I’m quite some way off from 62 but I am old enough to remember the world before the interweb. It was not better.

A while ago I wrote about the scare stories of Greenfield and her ilk and about how they are nothing new – here and here. Now Greenfield has written a novel based on her doom and gloom scenario.

Martin has reviewed her sci-fi novel here and outlined everything that’s wrong with her very unscientific theories, as regularly expounded in the Daily Mail where, as he says, ‘she routinely accuses technology of turning the latest generation of teens and twenty-somethings into feeble mouth-breathers who'd sacrifice their physical, mental and sexual health for a hearty broadband connection’.

He also says: ‘I’m sick and tired of watching middle-aged, middle-class reactionaries direct torrents of thoughtless abuse at my generation. Her book is little more than a catalogue of absurd prejudices directed by a 62-year-old at a generation she seems pig-headedly uninterested in engaging with, refusing to read blogs or look at Facebook’.

Susan Greenfield characterizes all young people as a doomed generation which, by implication, means the generation and society she grew up in were better.

What follows is anecdotal evidence, but then her ideas are no more scientific.

I’m on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been an active member of forums and chat rooms discussing everything from science to Sephardic Jews to Buffy with people I’ve never met, forming the evil transient relationships instead of being outdoors playing with a stick and a hoop. Most of the people who read my blog are total strangers to me (and in some cases, I hope we never meet). Does that make me a traitor to my generation? Am I rotting my brain, betraying my upbringing and destroying society?

I grew up in a small village in the West Country. The 60s didn’t arrive there until about 1972 so it was a world Greenfield would easily recognise. The only way to learn anything outside of school was to go to the nearest town when my dad felt like driving there, and go to the library (once they finally got around to building one). I’d wander around, hoping to happen on a book that might teach me something about the world.

I read a lot of books but had no way of knowing if what was in them was right or even up to date. I did my homework and studied hard because I knew the only way out of the village was to go to university. I chose one pretty much at random because I had no way of doing any research. When I got there, I was very unprepared for city life. I was a yokel with strict religious parents who knew nothing about anything to do with adult life. If that kind of isolation wasn’t infantilizing, I don’t know what is.

Adults in the village did go out of their houses to meet other people in the real world. They went to church or to the pub. There was fuck-all for teenagers to do apart from drinking cider (illegally) or getting pregnant. For some years, the nearest town was said to have the highest birth rate in Europe. The local cider would turn you into a drooling moron faster than any social network.

I’d like to have interacted more with real people in real time. My dad taught at the nearest comprehensive so a lot of the local boys avoided me.

My secondary school was a long way from the village so most of my friends were inaccessible outside of school as the bus service was rudimentary. One of them didn’t have a phone. If we wanted to communicate or meet up in the holidays, we had to write a letter. I enjoyed writing but it made for slow, slow conversations.

We didn’t go on holiday abroad and everyone in the village was white, Church of England or Methodist so the only way to experience other cultures or other people’s lives was to get a pen-pal. More letters and even slower communication.

In the 60s, my mum’s sister lived in America; she had to book a trunk call to talk to her, which we could only afford to do a couple of times a year – once we got a phone.

We watched the BBC news but my parents never discussed what was happening in the world apart from tutting and telling me to think of the starving children in Biafra if I didn’t eat everything on my plate. I didn’t know where Biafra was. I didn’t know what an aubergine was until I left home.

Everyone in the village knew everyone else’s business. Gossip and tutting were the main social interactions. I was mocked for having short hair, so you can imagine what it was like if you were gay or otherwise non-conventional. You had no way of finding other people like you or even knowing they existed, let alone communicating with them. It was bloody miserable. If I’d had the Internet, I’d have been a lot happier, better informed and better connected. It would have been a lifeline, as it is now for many young people. I’d have known I wasn’t a freak – or at least not alone. And I could have posted pictures of my cat eating my dad’s hair.

Yes, you can spend too long online. You can spend too long doing lots of things that aren’t good for you. If younger people are doomed because of social networks and the rest, then who is to blame? Susan Greenfield’s generation. If your kids are zombies, it’s your fault. You are crap parents and role models.

Unlike Susan Greenfield, I do interact with the young people. I like them. They help me do stuff on the internet and don't laugh at me. We even have conversations and sometimes we touch each other.

As for the end of all things civilized, I’d say that the Tory government is doing its best to destroy everything that was good about the society I grew up in. You don’t speak for me, Susan Greenfield, or any of the people I know over thirty. Or over fifty. Or sixty. Don’t make young people hate us all. I’d like to tell you to shove your classist, patronizing and unscientific ideas where the sun don’t shine – which probably means I have no empathy because the internet ate it.


  1. This is excellent

  2. You're so right. The only thing that made the old days better was that we were younger. And that not always.

  3. She's right that the internet & technology is changing the lives of our children in ways that we can't begin to imagine (my son has been able to use Android on a tablet with a frightening level of competency since he was 2).

    Where she falls down though is, when SHE tries to begin to imagine, her unbounded pessimism lead her to believe that only bad things will come. That's because she's a miserable old fart.

    It's actually much easier and healthier to begin to imagine the endless possibilities our children will have that we (and she) never had.

  4. Well said!

    For me the only way out of my village was to join a band. A misspent youth well spent!
    The internet has brought me closer to so many like minded individuals and quite a few 'interesting' others. I am 53 and a half. My children have grown up with it and it has enhanced their social lives in many ways

    I would have loved to have met such an aspiring young woman back in the day, her head filled with dreams of something greater...

  5. I am in my 50s and LOVE technology. Twitter has transformed my PhD with networks, support, ideas, links and a community in an isolated time. Great post. The pandering by mainstream media to negative stereotypes as advocated by Greenfield is horrible. She also gives academics a bad name by refusing to use evidence properly.