How we are sleepwalking into a real-life Matrix – Jim Duffy

Young people are hooked up to a virtual world where their data can be manipulated in sinister ways, writes Jim Duffy.

Our obsession with technology means we are increasingly missing out on social situations with real people (Picture: Dan Phillips)

The English rock band, The Who, belted out a song called My Genereation. Released in 1965, this epic signature tune from this well-known group of musicians is an all-time classic. Essentially, the lyrics talk about the older generation – most probably mums, dads, teachers and politicians – not understanding the youngsters of that time.

Nothing new in that. Each generation takes a swipe at the one that went before. It’s a coming-of-age phenomenon. My personal swipe was listening to The Jam and then belting their tunes out on my guitar. But, as I am one of those old dads now, I look at the current generation below me and ask myself what their fight, argument or beef is with us all. And the answer is not a good one...

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I have just spent the week in London – alone. Despite London being a city of about nine million people, one can get through a whole day outside of work, not involved in any discourse with anyone.

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A quick coffee and some sour-doughy toast down my neck, shower, listen to LBC and then out the door for business. From the moment I left the flat in Peckham, I was alone. Walking along the Main Street to Peckham Rye tube station, the road was full of folks just like me.

I always walk briskly, but not too fast. The old knees are not up to it anymore. But I can keep up with the crowd. And the crowd just chugs along here not as one, but as a bunch of individuals with no sense of community. Then it gets worse.

No eye contact, no chat

As I hit the tube station with that famous London Underground signage, the hustle and bustle really kicks in. It is every man, woman, binary and child for themselves. I beep my Oyster card on the contactless panel and I’m in. Locked into the London transport system, where the only conversations one hears involve “rude” people talking loudly on mobile phones.

As I stand on the platform, so many of the commuters seem so young. I look around me and smile at a couple of the girls. Well they look like girls to me, probably the same age as my 20-something daughters. They look at me quickly then look away. No engagement, just the fear of the unknown Celt who is looking weird and smiling. I’m either a pervert, desperate, weird or worse in their eyes. So, what do they do? They get back to their phones.

Travelling on the tube is not any better once ensconced within a hot, stuffy carriage. No eye contact, no chat, no nothing. Ninety per cent of people are staring at technology. I look at them and feel their brains are glued to their gadgets. Someone visiting from another planet may see these digital devices as demi-gods. But, there almost everyone is, immersed in a world far away from the moment they are in.

White noise

And here is this problem for this generation. The technology is fusing their minds. It seems to own them. If The Who song was written today, it would be about the technology singing about its generation, the sad humans addicted to its messaging.

Once above ground again, sitting in Pret-a-Manger at Pimlico, nothing changes. This generation sips coffee while it surfs and gawps at small screens. A growing trend in this new generation is to have earphones or earbuds permanently stuck on their heads. White noise drowning out the tedium of life in the capital.

I almost plucked up the courage to chat to a young lady sitting adjacent to me. She was doodling on an A4 pad while her smart phone lay beside it, flashing up messages from Instagram, WhatsApp and whatever other notifications she had switched on. But, in the end, I didn’t bother trying for any conversation. Perhaps her version of people-watching was a digital version and not the kind I enjoy.

And so the day goes on in London. There are millions of people existing and interacting with tech. But, underneath it all, I would suggest they are pretty lonely. Not simply alone, as in having no permanent partner, but lonely – a result of the social isolation precipitated by social media, one could argue.

It acts as a barricade surrounding people in proper social situations, so they fail to interact with those around them and in near proximity. From what I could see, both the young and the older citizens of London are hooked into this world, like something out of the film The Matrix.

Apps to help meet people

They are pushing data to big warehouses across the globe that are storing, examining and manipulating it all to keep them wired to screen time, while they fail to see what is in front of them.

I got home about 7pm most nights. I closed the flat door and retreated into my personal space. And so did all my neighbours. Each one decompressing, eating dinner and, yes you guessed it, getting on Apps to meet people. From dating apps looking for Friday night company to hook-up Apps looking for quick sex, along with more slow-burn friendship Apps. And as I looked out my kitchenette window where I could see Canary Wharf about five miles away, with its glass buildings and shining lights, I felt a bit sad, a bit lonely.

And I was only there for a week!

It makes me wonder why there is so much talk of depression, mental health fragility and anxiety. This generation is functioning differently. It doesn’t feel right to me. But, I do hope it comes to its senses soon. Otherwise the machines will have taken over.