Who’s Sorry Now?

Logged: 06 October 2019

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in my life I became a mutant. I should add at once, and with indecent nervous haste, I don’t mean a mutant in the classic science fiction sense. When I look in the mirror there’s no obvious bulbous, insect-like head, saucer-sized eyes, and lobster claws in place of hands. Equally I lack the incomprehensible appetite science fiction mutants have for startled 1950s women with conical breasts – the type who scream excessively and lose the use of their legs in a crisis. I mean a mutant in the generic sense of being hard wired or genetically engineered to be anti social media.

The roots of this deviation may lie in my childhood. I was an only child, and to some extent with all that implies. There were many occasions on which I had to make my own entertainment. At home there were few opportunities to fill the void of otherwise uneventful hours with the eccentricities, personal tragedies, and frankly shocking habits of other children my age. This may go some way towards explaining my complete absence of any need for a smartphone to keep me mesmerised throughout my waking hours, and the equally complete absence of the vulture-like stoop, goat-like stare, and incipient psychiatric problems that commonly go with one.

A solitary upbringing should have led to me creating an army of imaginary friends who could be pressed into service to amuse me as the whim arose. That it didn’t was probably an early sign of what some would consider a dreary and unimaginative sense of logic that I applied to the world then and now. Many years ago I was asked in idle conversation if I’d had any imaginary friends during my childhood. My immediate answer was no – all of the friends I had were horribly real. That simple fact may have spared me the lowest common denominator addictions of social media, and the invented world that goes with it.

One friend from the early part of my childhood used to express his extremes of fury by doubling his tongue back on itself and clenching it between his teeth until it looked ready to burst. It lent him the aspect of a child with terminal constipation. This illusion was added to by the accompaniment of some very disturbing bat-like screeching noises that led any dogs within a hundred yard radius to whine or bolt for cover. His emotional instability wouldn’t have made him an ideal candidate to work for the Samaritans. Conceivably he might have given them an incoherent ring as a client at some point in his life. It’s hard to judge what the result of that would have been. It’s doubtful that anyone would have understood him unless they had leathery wings and a disposition to hang upside down from some rafters.

A few years later, another friend (and you may well ask “where did you keep finding them?”) used to threaten to urinate in his pants when we were out. It began with something akin to the two-minute warning that supposedly existed during the cold war to tell everyone they were about to die because of an imminent nuclear attack. Obviously in this case it wasn’t broadcast on TV and radio as far as I’m aware. The effects of my friend urinating in the street were much more limited than the effects of a 20 megaton nuclear warhead, so I was the only one who cared.

My friend was aware that on some level his actions embarrassed me deeply. Because of that he would wait until adults were nearby and then start glancing between them and me like a psychopath about to witness a train crash. My heart always sank at this juncture because I knew he was about to make an attention-seeking announcement of what he proposed to do. I can still hear his increasingly shrill threats in my mind even to this day. His siren-like voice punctuated with hysterical giggles told the world “I am…..I’m going to……”. Inevitably there were times when he actually did.

During these memorable events I remember a few adults looking askance at him over their shoulders, and one just shaking his head. Presumably he thought I had just banged a six-inch nail into my friend’s head for the perverse fun of doing it, and his behaviour was the outcome. Don’t think I wasn’t tempted. Meanwhile, as my friend danced about with a steady and localised cascade dribbling from his trousers, he chattered away gleefully like a cockatoo as he basked in my agony. Set against that background, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have no inclination to be liked or have friends online. People online are often bigger crackpots than the friends I had as a child, and always without any of the charm.

It didn’t get appreciably better for me in my later years at at school. An adventurous claim was made decades ago that we only use about ten percent of our brain capacity. That isn’t strictly true, but in any event, I was able to counter it by stating categorically that I was at school with some boys who didn’t use any – and they all managed to get jobs later. They’re probably thriving on twitter.

Effectively, social media has recreated all of the lunatic elements of my childhood with none of its benefits. Worse, it’s recreated them in a petri-dish culture that allows crackpots and nutcases to multiply like bacteria under optimum conditions. Circumstances like that lead to plague. It’s something we’re completely unprepared for. Instead of wasting our time fretting about asteroids that might hit the Earth, we should be doing something now about Facebook, twitter, and smartphones.

If Atlantis ever existed, it wasn’t nuclear Armageddon that wiped it out. It was mass communal suicides brought about by people who didn’t get enough “likes” on their birthday. I’m even inclined to question the prevailing theories about why dinosaurs became extinct. If Tyrannosaurus Rex was “unfriended” by Brontosaurus it would have kicked off a chain-reaction of carnage. One day somebody will find fossilised evidence of how many “likes” these creatures gave each-other, and science will have to think again. If ever you’re you’re tempted to post details of your birthday on social media, the evidence tells us you’ll be sorry.