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No, I’m not a Luddite (1)

22/07/2013

Try googling the string of words ‘People that don’t use social media’, and you’d be surprised at some of the stuff you see. All kinds of gratuitous conclusions are being drawn on the Internet and elsewhere (including in some leading newspapers) about those of us who – for whatever reason – don’t use these things. Just to make my meaning quite clear, when I say ‘social media’ I don’t mean the Internet itself, or the Google search engine, or even this blog – I mean things like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which are designed to put your ‘personal profile’ out there for all and sundry to ‘follow’.

In our age of capitalism-run-riot, I guess it makes some sort of sense for people to advertise themselves as though they were products – so far, so market-oriented. But when rumours, and even rumours masquerading as serious articles, start to proliferate that anyone who doesn’t use social media is ‘weird’, ‘suspicious’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘psychopathic’, that’s another matter altogether. I’m not talking here about the asinine statements by folks who’ve never even met me that I ‘obviously don’t have any friends’ or am ‘uncool’ (whatever you choose to make that mean – we were using the word back in the 1960s, so there’s nothing especially new or daring about it), but really quite scary stuff that may well be influencing how millions of people think about their fellow human beings. At least two recent mass slaughterers (one American, one Norwegian) have been ‘exposed’ as not having had Facebook accounts – and to some people that apparently was (or should have been) sufficient warning of their evil propensities. You might as well draw such conclusions about people that grow moustaches from the fact that both Hitler and Stalin had one (whoops, so do I – again). But I’m amazed to see that, to an increasing number of employers, the fact that job applicants do not use social media is reason enough to reject their applications out of hand – like, there must be something wrong with them, even if we don’t know what. Just as well I work freelance….

Another thing I notice about the often furious, not to say obscene reactions (the F-word is surprisingly common) to those of us who don’t use the social media is the frequent use of the term ‘Luddite’ (or ‘neo-Luddite’) to describe us. I’m not a Luddite, neo or otherwise. Luddites were weavers and other craftspeople who went around smashing the new machinery of England’s Industrial Revolution that was quite literally depriving them of their livelihoods – tantamount to a death sentence for them and their families back in those days when work was hard to come by, and their response was an all too understandable, though alas naïve, rearguard action.

My decision to steer clear of the social media has nothing to do with all that. It’s just that I don’t want every single facet of my life to be splattered all over the web. That’s a choice which, unlike the Luddites’ smashing of weaving machinery, has no adverse consequences for anyone else – unless you consider the resulting curtailment of marketeers’ ability to pester this unwilling consumer an adverse consequence.

What has brought society to this pretty pass?

Cowboy capitalism, that’s what. One of the many misleading things it encourages people to think is that there’s a cure for every ill – especially if you have the money to push other people out of your way. And one of the ‘ills’ there’s supposedly a cure for is having to defer your own personal needs and wishes, or simply accept that they can’t be fulfilled, now or ever. One of the useful social instruments that got in the way of this me-me-me attitude was good old regulation. Sure, it could get too bureaucratic, and government control of everything was never a good thing. But there were no countries – not even the Soviet Union – where the government controlled everything, if only because people managed to subvert the system over and over again (one of the classic Soviet jokes was ‘This must be the richest country in the world – a quarter of a billion people have been stealing from the state for seventy years, and there’s still something left to steal’).

But in the 1980s deregulation was declared the cure for all of society’s ills, by Guess Who and her American sidekick. I see little objection to deregulation and privatisation if they really do help customer services to improve. Take baggage handling, or bars and restaurants, at airports. There seems little reason to have all these controlled by one government-run airport authority if a private company can do these things more efficiently, and be replaced by another one if it falls down on the job. It probably does save money, boost competition and increase quality. Similarly, British Rail’s notoriously stale and tasteless cellophane-wrapped, corpse-white sandwiches and lukewarm sugared dishwater masquerading as tea and/or coffee have made way for a vast array of excellent food and beverages supplied by small private companies. But the free-market capitalism that has improved ancillary services at stations has been the kiss of death for the train services themselves – which is, after all, what the railways are all about. Punctuality (such as it was) and safety have declined, ticket prices have skyrocketed to the point where it’s cheaper to fly (and pollute even more of the environment), and the numerous companies that use the same national rail network (which can hardly be duplicated) have become past masters at passing the buck whenever problems arise (‘sorry, we only deal with the rolling stock – please talk to the company that’s responsible for the tracks’, or vice versa). They have no option, for now they have to set a proportion of their income aside for private shareholders, most of whom probably never catch a train in their lives.

British Rail was never a jewel in the crown of state-run enterprise, but the private companies that have replaced it can hardly claim a better record. Holland is now unfortunately reinventing precisely the same wheel, and a railway system that was once the envy of Europe is starting to creak and buckle. I suspect that deep down the present Dutch government would like to renationalise the system – but in the prevailing worldwide socioeconomic climate that remains a no-no. The Animal Farm-like mantra is still ‘Public bad, private good’. And so goodbye to good public transport. It doesn’t even have to be deliberately destroyed as it was in the USA back before the Second World War, when a cartel of car, tyre and oil firms conspired to buy up railway and tram services and then promptly closed them down, leaving large swathes of the country with no alternative means of transport to the car (a scam that has gone down in history as the ‘General Motors streetcar conspiracy’). Europe’s political leaders (few of whom ever catch buses or trains, or rely on public hospital beds) are now blithely acquiescing in the wanton destruction of the continent’s once magnificent public services, all in the supposed interests of ‘efficiency’.

So back to the social media. What have these got to do with the developments I have just described? Free markets, that’s what. Market freedom is rather like sexual freedom. Once you’re allowed to do whatever you like, you’re expected to do whatever anyone else likes. How many people have found themselves coerced into unwanted sex in the name of freedom? You’re on the pill, so you can’t get pregnant, so that’s no excuse. Love? Come on, it’s just for one night. I’m in the mood, you’re in the mood (or if not, why not?), so what have you got to lose? Are you frigid, or a faggot, or what?

The same with social media. Everyone’s on the system, so it can’t be dangerous. Privacy? Come on, it’s just fun. It’s so easy, so what have you got to lose? Are you antisocial, or a psychopath, or what?

As far as the social media are concerned, I’m quite happy to be a 60-year-old virgin, with a copper-bottomed chastity belt and the key thrown away.

I will undoubtedly return to this topic, since it will undoubtedly return to me….

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From → Politics, Society, Travel

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