Tim Lott: 'We live in an age of static, and it follows us around everywhere. Space and silence disappear'

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The Independent Online

The dazzling spectacle of the new Apple iPhone makes me want to hold it, stroke with it, play with it and bring it to life by my touch. If the terminology seems erotic, it is because there is no denying that the iPhone is sexy.







The arrival in the shops of this gadget later this year is liable to provoke hysteria redolent of a movie premiere. And it is as beautiful as a starlet but much more useful, featuring a portable computer with touch-screen technology and a 3.5-inch display. You can play music and movies on it, take photos with it, send e-mails on it and look at "visual voice-mails" .

But is this silicon-chip starlet a Siren who will betray you in the end? Of course. For that is what gadgets do. The computer revolution is as important as the invention of the wheel or the internal combustion engine. But a computer itself is not a gadget - it is a miraculous tool and an epoch-making innovation.

A gadget is a technological sub-species, concerned with miniaturisation, portability, amalgamation, cachet, status, style and the shrinking of one's private world. Gadgets are the development and packaging of larger innovations that are then "marketed" as necessities masquerading as toys. They follow the fact of useful technological leaps and then bastardise them by pushing them to an illogical extreme that panders more to novelty and the demands of turbo-capitalism than real usefulness.

New technology does not really progress as new innovations accrue to its form (in the guise of gadgetry). A new technology ripens, and reaches a peak condition, and then rots into complexity, intrusiveness and futility.

Take moving pictures. This amazing device for information dispersal and mass entertainment reached an apotheosis in the middle of the 20th century before the gadget that was television instituted the process of rot. Watching cinema in pre-TV days when the form was ripe took the form of a collective experience. There were no ads to interrupt the narratives. Your attention would be focused entirely on the cultural product.

Come the gadget of TV, the form quickly debased. Adverts interrupted the flow. The cathedral of light and sound gave way to the convenient, cheap but isolated experience of watching TV at home, with - as the technology progressed - the possibility of channel grazing, the pollution of advertisement and the more mundane temptations of making yourself a cup of tea. Focused attention was debased (the abasement of attention is surely one of the most significant consequences of the rise of the gadget).

An offshoot of TVs, VCRs were a welcome development and a real innovation, but the arrival of DVDs has pushed the form towards rot. They jam all the time. Their very profusion has transformed art literally into junk, as they are given away on fish and chip paper, ie, newspapers. After years of trying, I don't understand the rewind and fast forward functions properly The DVD is a gadget.

Soon, all sound (and vision) will be digitised - leaving us atomised. Even now the "album" is becoming an anachronism because of the pick'n'mix culture that the hyper-choice of technology engenders. We are thus delegated the power to be our own worst enemies.

Mobiles are typical of this impulse of the form towards what one might charitably call the mixed blessing. Mine is the most basic. I rarely use it for making calls - my last bill was for £5.73. It's useful, in its place, but it does not know its place - like most gadgets. More than any other device, the democracy of the mobile phone, of which the iPhone is destined to be mad emperor, has eroded private space. You cannot get away from anyone. And you can't switch it off, because they will want to know why.

It is not merely the individual ownership of a mobile phone that compromises privacy, but the collective ownership of them - as anyone listening to the electronic babble on a train at rush-hour will confirm.

I have a particular objection to bastard children of mobile phones - gadgets spawned by gadgets - that is the new generation of camera and video phones. Quite apart from the voyeuristic disgrace of "happy slapping" that it has spawned, it represents the toxic nurturing of an obsessive need to "capture" all experience. Although in themselves snapshots are harmless, somehow gnawing at the edge of this techno-consciousness is the conviction that nothing is really real unless it is recorded.

I have a special objection to e-mail (which is a sort of virtual gadget). I have become addicted. I check a dozen times a day. There is something about the promise that there may be something exciting or lucrative arriving among the Viagra spam that makes one, like a rat in the laboratory rewarded with food at unpredictable intervals, return time and again. Now, with the iPhone or its predecessor, the Blackberry, I can indulge my addiction in the car, on the Tube or in the park. This is liable to result in the pathologisation of what at the moment only is potentially a nervous tic.

Gadgets are seductive, but they are dangerous because they transform your relationship with yourself and the outside world. I am never alone, so I am always responsible. I am never alone, so I am always available. I am always talking, and someone who never stops talking goes mad. Or I am not talking, I am listening, to the beat, beat, beat of the new private interior world of the iPhone, and the world of space and silence disappears. We live in an age of static, a static that follows around everywhere, and, therefore, is bound to become us unless we resist.

Perhaps that is the answer - to just say no. But I suspect that it's too late for us. We have eaten of the Apple and we are doomed. All we can do is reconcile ourselves to the new reality. Which is another way of saying, yes, I do want an iPhone next Christmas.

Tim Lott's new novel, 'Fearless', is published by Walker Books in June

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