It’s OK to shout at machines – in fact, in the future some of us will find it necessary

Posted: December 8, 2012 in life
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Crying baby

My old man needs a lie down too.

I’m running a slight fever, so this might not make sense, but you can read it anyway if you like. Continue?

OK. About an hour ago I yelled at a machine. Told it, pointlessly, to shut up. The machine was a phone, the idiot. The previous day I’d set an alarm on it to remind me to do something and now here it was, moronically doing its duty, ringing and thrumming and thrumming and ringing. Since present-moment me had already done the thing that yesterday me had been so pant-pissingly angsty about missing; the reminder was irritating. Doubly irritating because at the time, I was trying to deal with a screaming baby. Old man needs a lie down.

I don’t mention the baby in a bid to deliberately sicken you – much as the notion delights me – but because for a moment I realised I was trapped between two things that were yelling at me for reasons they couldn’t possibly comprehend. Seconds earlier the baby, who is just shy of five months, had been gurgling delightedly like a dumb cartoon dog as I held him up under the arms so he could put his legs on the ground and practise “standing”. He laughed and laughed and laughed, until his mind apparently snapped, and the laughs morphed into whimpers, followed closely by howls. There’s no point telling a baby to make its mind up. It can’t co-ordinate its mind any better than it could co-ordinate an Apache attack helicopter.

As far as I could tell he wasn’t hungry, tired, or understandably outraged at the sight of me; he was “over-stimulated”; a regular and unavoidable occurrence when a baby’s developing brain is intermittently swamped by the ever-present cacophony of existence and it screams in anguish at the sheer prospect of having to live a single minute longer. Think of this as a form of pure artistic expression and most reasonable adults can resist the urge to fling the child across the room.

No such holding back required with a phone. You can scream at a phone for six months straight and Philip Larkin won’t accuse you of fucking it up. A phone doesn’t know, because it’s full of cogs made of light or something, whereas a baby is filled with a kind of haunted meat, probably. I don’t know. Old man needs a lie down.

Anyway, as the shout tromboned its way out of my gob, I suddenly had a chilling vision of my son’s future, which was abstract, but felt like this: unless some cataclysmic event reduces his world to a fizzing pit of ashes, for him, the over-stimulation will never stop. It’ll amplify and accelerate. Already everywhere is chitter-chatter, flashing lights and LOOKEE HERE. You can walk away from the computer, take a break from Twitter, lose your phone on purpose and it’s still there, in the atmosphere, somehow, because this decade-long festival of stimuli has rewired your attention span to the point where trying to entertain just one thought at a time feels like trying to focus on a reflective disc lodged between the spokes of a spinning bike wheel. By the time he’s five, even the paving slabs he’ll have just learned to walk on will have been replaced by footprint-operated touchscreens that try to log him into Facebook. He’ll cope with it fine; the young do. But by that point I’ll probably be on my knees, clutching my head, foaming at the mouth.

But then that’s my clapped-out never-was mess of a brain talking. I’m 31 and irrelevant. And tired. I used to play vertical-scrolling shoot-em-ups in which a blizzard of angry pixels swirled around the screen like a synchronised galaxy impersonating a flock of starlings, accompanied by a melodic soundtrack of pops and whistles apparently performed by an orchestra of frenzied Bop-It machines. But at least then you could press pause. Now I find it hard to cope with seeing a banner ad slowly fading from red to green while the The One Show‘s on in the background, which is why over the past few weeks I’ve ratcheted down my engagement with anything not made of wood. There’s a baby to attend to, and his old man needs a lie down.

Because the alternative is to surround myself with technology designed specifically for shouting at. And that’s the more uplifting feature of the horrible future I pictured for this baby I’m talking about, the baby I vowed to never mention in print because to do so would instantly mark me out as a prick: in the future, we’ll have specially designed anguish-venting machines – unfeeling robots wearing bewildered faces for older people to scream into like adult babies, just to let out all the stress caused by constant exposure to yappering, feverish stimuli. Tomorrow will consist of flashing lights and off-the-shelf digital punchbags, consumed by a generation better equipped to deal with it than me, which won’t matter because by then I will have withdrawn entirely from the digital world: an old man, enjoying his lie down.


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