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Offbeat – 21 February 2014

Evolution is an interesting thing. It is not just the form of the flesh that evolves. The environment and the things in it evolve. People’s attitudes evolve as well.

Someone told me she was bereft without her ability to make mobile calls recently. It was something to do with a power cut that took down a transmission tower in her neighbouthood. That was definitely not Namibia. If that had happened here, the mobs would have been out setting fire to things.
She seemed to draw something positive from it, saying that she would limit herself to a few minutes per day. That’s an interesting thought transposed onto Namibia, where a man’s best friend is no longer a dog, and women turn up their noses at the companionship of diamonds.
The mobile phone has altered everything. When I was a kid, we were expected to be able to survive on our own. The world has changed somehow. Children cannot be expected to survive without mums and dads being able to reach them on their phones.
When my friend mentioned that she would limit use of her mobile, I wondered what would happen if she weren’t able to access Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Gmail and whatever other methods she uses to communicate. She must be very courageous and used to roughing it, if she is able to defy the progression of the species in that way.
To my mind, the worst thing that the zombie apocalypse could bring is not the zombies, but a shortage of wifi. We might even have to go back to using dial telephones.
I cast my mind back. I grew up with a dial telephone, radio, books, cinema on Saturday and a box of Lego and some Matchbox cars. I look around me and I see all the possible communication and input methods I can imagine. I have so many inputs, I don’t really know what to do with it all.
Maybe there is a certain sense to shutting down the communication feeds. I could use the bit of extra time to think a bit more. But then I wouldn’t be able to be in touch with my friends in China, Australia, the USA, in fact all over the world, except the Arctic and Antarctica. I wouldn’t even be able to notice that my brave friend in South Africa was not using her device.
As I looked at her post, a sudden sense of horror overtook me. I thought for a moment that she might become one of the people who lets the internet, and all it does, pass her by. What I was reminded of was friends and family who died before the internet. Sometimes I google them, when I remember them. Many of them have left no trace, not even a small reference on a blog or a list.
That’s another evolution that the internet brings to us, memories of people, their traces, after they have gone.
Evolution is an interesting thing. It is not just the form of the flesh that evolves. The environment and the things in it evolve. People’s attitudes evolve as well. Once upon a time some cave dweller probably grumbled that fire would be the downfall of whatever he thought of as humanity. Movable type probably brought complaints from monks who believed that nothing could ever satisfactorily replace rolls of illuminated parchment.
The point is to roll with it. Things happen, and sooner or later, our attitudes have to change to accommodate the changes. After a wile people who drop out of the evolution fall back and have to catch up or risk dropping out of the race.
Movable type was a part of the trend that made words accessible. At the time of the first spread of books, it may have seemed unnecessary. Today, those who don’t have literacy or who don’t choose to read are at a huge disadvantage, and have whole days dedicated to them by major global organisations.
People who live without making use of the web will struggle in years to come, though it seems to be spreading faster than literacy ever did.
Somewhere in all of the communication there is something happening. Perhaps it is some king of hive mind, or even thousands of hive minds, grouped by their varying interests. There will be very little room for the individualism of letting it pass you by. If there is a future that is predictable, it is a future based on billions of people communicating, and all of them using the web. That’s the evolution ahead.

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