24th June

The Ones

At first you think everybody is at it: on the bus, or at the bus stop, that familiar head-down stance, the gadget held between hands, the thumbs and fingers tapping, flicking, scrolling; or the evolved walk, one hand to ear, speaking to someone who is not present; or – one level up from that, and a growing subspecies, or maybe a breakaway alpha group – the brisk, earphoned, miked-up walkers, no device visible, talking like mad solitaries but looking controlled, like they’re passing sophisticated comment, cutting sharp deals, making cool arrangements. Or, on the train, the ones with the notebooks, pads, slimmed laptops, 4G phones, riding whatever the next wave of connectivity is. What a word: be connected, stay linked, don’t for one second be out of touch in case you miss something or it misses you. In the last six months more photographs have been taken than in the entire previous history of photography. You don’t have to believe that statistic to know it is happening. You don’t have to compute to know that the world is a place of sign language, image, messaging, and you have to be in it, of it, at it, giving and receiving signs and messages, you have to be there or you will die.

But then, glancing around, you see the other ones. The phoneless, wire- less, waveless, unhooked ones. Greybeard tramps, kids in prams, kids who like watching dogs, people of a certain age who have said, ‘It’s too late,’ poor, frazzled women, scarred men, unrecovering addicts of one kind or another, the detritus of our civilisations. If those with the technology are Romans, these are the barbarians. The ones outside the citadel. Beyond the wall. The ones who lack the necessary education but despise it anyway. The ones who use the middle finger to make signals and cup the ear to receive them. The people for whom the Dark Ages are called dark. The ones who will welcome the darkness, bring out their hatchets and skewers, make pyres of smashed screens and keyboards. The ones who will turn out to be the strong ones, the survivors. The ones who will revel, not panic, when the lights flicker and die.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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