Net migration

Phonecharge

Before I recycle this October 26 edition of the New Yorker by passing it on to my friend Lucy, I want to direct you to what is a typically very looooooong article detailing the journey of a young Syrian law student called Ghaith from his home town of Jdeidet Artouz, southwest of Damascus, to Sweden, where he now lives. (It’s available to read for free, in full, here.) I was struck, as I always am, by the sheer guts, determination and self-belief that takes a citizen from one side of the world to another, by land and sea. But then I have never fled from war, as I have never been in one. I have never fled from anywhere, except a dodgy early-80s houseparty in Northampton when the front door was being kicked in (a few of us actually escaped via the rooftops and ended up in an old lady’s back garden – she let us go through her house to the street outside and didn’t call the police). I won’t detail Ghaith’s entire, titanic journey – although X-Factor contestants should check their use of the term “journey” after reading about this actual one – as that’s not the point of what I’m writing about.

What fascinated me was the vital role played in one man’s escape from Syria by technology. It’s easy to bemoan the many insidious and disturbing effects of smartphones and the internet on modern society. The fact that nobody looks where they’re going any more, for instance, something that winds me up every time I make my way through a busy station concourse with my eyes straight ahead. I am reading a book called The Internet Is Not The Answer by Andrew Keen, a former webvangelist who has turned against his master (“Rather than fostering a renaissance,” he writes of the internet, “it has created a selfie-centred culture of voyeurism and narcissism”). He is not the first see the online dream’s wanton destruction of middle class jobs (for which read: jobs) and the way its capacity for generating vast profits for a very slim section of society is crushing those at the bottom while a select few “young white men in black limousines” count their millions based on either having had one idea, or buying someone else’s idea and then selling it, but he sets it out well in a book. I tend towards his neo-Luddite position in my weaker moments of panic. But then I read Ten Borders: One refugee’s epic escape from Syria by Nicholas Schmidle.

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When we join the story, Ghaith’s older brother Ghalib has already fled Syria (initially, and with no choice, leaving behind his wife and three children, as is all too often the case). He did it by hiding in a crate in a truck and has settled in Gothenburg. Ghaith, also married, got a message from his brother via Facebook in May 2014, and this is where the tech journey begins. (By the way, if you ever hear some Daily Mail colonel complaining that the refugees can’t be that wretched, they seem to have enough money for mobile phones, punch them.) The Facebook message advised Ghaith to head to a Lebanese town to secure a fake passport from a smuggler. This didn’t work and he ended up in a detention centre. But he was not deterred. It is here that writer Nicholas Schmidle states, “The impact of social media on the Syrian refugee crisis has been profound.”

He refers to a 2012 paper by Rianne Dekker and Godfried Engbersen, professors at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, which states that social media has not only helped in “lowering the threshold for migration,” by allowing people to remain connected with faraway family members; it has also democratised the process, by facilitating “a form of silent resistance against restrictive immigration regimes.” It’s worth remembering this when we decide that Twitter is a force if not for evil, certainly for cheap distraction and exponential outrage at nothing.

We learn about the Asylum and Immigration Without Smugglers online community, which was created in June, 2013, by a 31-year-old Syrian known as Abu Amar. He became “an essential guide” for those wishing to escape Syria and re-settle in Europe. At its peak, the Asylum and Immigration Without Smugglers group had more than 60,000 members. Someone from the International Organization for Migration told Schmidle that when Syrians arrive in Italy or Greece “they just melt away at the pier … they get on Facebook, and they know where to go.” I’m not on Facebook, and I’m sort of petulantly against it, as it’s run as a megalomaniac’s wet dream, but it’s clear that social networks can be used for more than social reasons.

Phonecharge

Ghaith, like many others, found details of escape through the Facebook group, a “discounted trip on a boat bound for Italy, run by a smuggler,” that departed from Turkey’s southern coast and went via Cyprus. Ghaith “followed instructions from the Facebook post”. For all the physical and corporeal details of his arduous journey, he might simply have never made the trip without online access. Money was exchanged electronically, using codes, naturally.

Boats, docks, life jackets, trucks, offices, shared hotel rooms, skiffs, coast guards: the building blocks of Ghaith’s escape story are solid. But the connecting threads are often ethereal, crackling electronic synapses, passing information, maintaining human contact. No telecommunications giant would dare to use the flight of a refugee to advertise its product, and yet, the flimsy premise of “interconnectedness” used to sell us only marginally improved models of a smartphone can be the difference between life and death. (If Benneton made a phone, they’d have a photo of a group of refugees huddled round a recharging generator on a Greek beach on the next billboard.)

As Ghaith’s journey continues, his sister wires him $1,000 from Saudi Arabia, to help pay for a $4,000 boat ticket, he and his friend Jamil keep in touch “through the mobile messaging service WhatsApp”, the article even reproduces chat-room communications sent between Ghaith and his smuggler (“Is there anything today?”, “Inshallah”). After a perilously overcrowded, aborted trawler trip from Turkey to the coast of Italy, we learn the terrible news: “His phone had been soaked, so he borrowed one to call his wife. Normally, they texted throughout the day, but they had been out of contact for more than seventy-two hours.” (Can you imagine the despair of not being able to use your mobile in such grim circumstances? Puts the Three Mobile network’s failure to give me a signal in the Clapham Junction area into perspective.) During a protracted layover in Turkey, Ghaith “busied himself each day by using an app, Fabulo, to study Swedish.” Again.

En route to the next possible boat out, this time to Cyprus, the go-between Turkish smuggler points to the horizon: “See those lights? Go toward them.” He then directs everyone to “switch off their phones,” as the coast guard picks up transmission signals. This exodus would not be possible without Samsung. On arrival – finally – at Lesbos, Ghaith calls his wife (his mobile has dried out) and she bursts into tears.

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This passage has nothing to do with tech, but it moved me all the same. When Ghaith reaches the immigration center at Lesbos, after many instances of kindness from the strapped Greek locals, it is closed, “so he went to a former swimming facility next door, which had been converted into a shelter. He slept on the tiled floor, using his backpack as a pillow. ‘That was the best feeling in the world,’ he said. ‘For the first time in years, I knew that I could sleep without waking up with sweats, from fear. No bombs could fall on my head, no one would try to take me.’ He went on, ‘In Europe, it’s better to sleep for two hours than it is to sleep for 50 hours in Syria. Because, in Syria, in each one of those hours you’ll have hundreds of nightmares.'”

On the journey from Greece to Sweden, we get this vivid image: “Ghaith and his friends bought sleeping bags, then travelled to Thessaloniki by bus. At a coffee shop near the city’s train station, they charged their phones while Ghaith waited for Ghalib to wire him €1,500, through Western Union.” On a northbound train to Belgrade, Ghaith and pals hide in a bathroom for fear of being thrown off: “After Ghaith took a group selfie, they switched off their phones and locked the door.” I know, maybe the selfie wasn’t vital to their survival, but it may well have distracted them from detention or death.

The cards they played on the train were real. So were the metal police batons used to beat them in Macedonia. The viral, online world exists as an echo of the real one, a parallel universe. I’m using it now to type on a moving train and save my words to a cloud (and to refer to the text of the article on the New Yorker website for accuracy). Part of me does truly believe that the world was a safer and simpler place before the existentially blameless Tim Berners-Lee sent his first email. I grew up arranging to meet people at a certain time in a certain place and then hoping they’d turn up, with no way on earth of contacting them once they had left the house. We survived. Somehow.

And Ghaith survived the long haul to Gothenberg. The thankless Abu Amar continues to run what has become “a hotline for refugees”; he is “up late every night, guiding Syrians across borders and sending them annotated maps.” His Facebook group continues dispensing advice: “The sea today and tomorrow is fatally dangerous. Don’t underestimate the situation. We have enough victims.” … “The storm is practically over. The best island to leave for today is Mytilene.” He couldn’t provide this lifeline using a loudhailer. (He, too, got out, and lives in Hamburg.)

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I liked this section, when Ghaith finds himself stuck in Athens. “In a text message, Ghaith explained his dilemma to Abu Amar, who sent a map directing him and his companions to a nearby hill. They could easily skirt Gevgelija, Abu Amar said, without drawing attention from the authorities. The refugees climbed to the top of the hill, ducked in the bushes, ate from a blackberry patch, and rested until nightfall.” There’s something pleasing about the idea of a blackberry being eaten rather than used to send a text message.

Heading for the Serbian border, Ghaith tries to “preserve his phone’s battery life, in case he needed to use G.P.S.,” surely the defining tribulation for the modern migrant. On, through Hungary, into Austria, and Germany, where Ghaith sent his brother Ghalib “a dropped pin on Viber, the messaging app” (whatever that is), confirming that he was indeed in the country. After all this messaging and pinning and chat-rooming and recharging and life-preserving across ten borders, Ghaith landed in Sweden, where an immigration officer “recorded his fingerprints, ran the data through an E.U. database, and confirmed that he had not previously been processed in Europe. ‘You are now under the custody of Sweden,’ she told him. ‘Sweden will take care of you.'” A happy ending.

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Long, complex, discursive and at times unbearably arduous, I still recommend this New Yorker article. (Boom, boom!) We are living in times as yet unrehearsed, not even in the 30s and 40s. The migration from Middle East to Western Europe defines us, whichever side of the barbed wire fence we sit on. And it seems that if mobile, wireless communications are the scourge of so much of our modern life, leading us to walk blindly through station concourses as we travel freely about the place, they can also truly act as a device for escape, safety, freedom and life.

Now, let’s bomb a few more Syrians out of there. No charge.

 

 

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A popularity contest

This was to be my next column for the dearly departed Word magazine. I’d pitched it, and it was in a holding pattern, awaiting clearance – in other words, for a bit of space at the front of the mag. It was half-written, so I’ll finish it here. (Hey! Self-publishing! For no money! It’s the future!)

Today’s hot topic is … well, a seemingly obscure anecdote from my days as a music journalist, but bear with me. I remember being on Pop Will Eat Itself’s tour bus circa 1991 and discovering, amid the usual collection of VHS tapes and CDs, the inevitable copy of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, very much the accessory du jour at the time (the Fifty Shades Of Grey of the early 90s, except not much favoured by women.). The NME photographer Tim was keen to show me the “bit with the rat”, already notorious as the most disgusting chapter in the book. This proved simple, as the band’s paperback fell automatically open at that very page, where its spine was now permanently bent. This was the blunt, physical way of discerning a novel’s most popular passage in the 20th century: you used your detective skills.

In the same prehistorical era, the NME, in common with other quaintly paper-based publications, would run an annual reader survey. No clicking here. It involved finding a Biro, filling in a form, cutting along the dotted line, sticking it in an envelope, licking a stamp and sending it off via the postal service. (As a reader, I used to fill these in with glee, but never once got round to sending the form in.) The results of the survey were eagerly disseminated by the suits and presented back to those of us who toiled in the editorial department and we’d learn, without exception, every year, that the readers bought the paper primarily for the Gig Guide. Not for the reams of purple prose we sweated over every week, but the Gig Guide – unavailable elsewhere in that pre-electronic age, lest we forget. It was the newspaper’s “bit with the rat.”

How Amish the methodology seems now. We also used to have what were known as “chart return shops”, which were outlets selected to propel A Flock Of Seagulls or Sailor to the toppermost of the poppermost – and where, we were told, shady record company sharks would bulk-buy said items to help them on their way. It wasn’t exactly a level playing field. But then, nor is the click-based electronic age we now live in. What might appear to be a more democratic popularity contest is just as open to corruption.

Consider the list of “favourites” that appears on every self-respecting website – some of which can be seen above, but you know what I’m talking about: the most popular entries on a blog, most read stories on a news site, the “trending” topics on Twitter. If ever there was a self-fulfilling algorithmic prophecy, it’s here. Because once a “popular” story appears in the “most popular” panel, it’s far more likely to be clicked on, and to remain popular. This is how a search engine like Google works, isn’t it? And how something like Charlie Bit My Finger can remain one of the most watched clips on YouTube even though it’s barely worth a look.

Hey, we all need our hand holding. It’s a jungle out there. It’s certainly a jumble out there. Information is now no longer fired at us from billboard and TV screen; it oozes out of every electronic pore. Sports players are covered from head to toe in brands and logos, and that’s before they stand in front of the backdrop created out of more brands and logos; no news programme is complete without a ticker running along the bottom of the screen – that’s now standard-issue – but at every juncture on TV now we are entreatied to email, text, Tweet and add our voice to what is already a cacophony of voices. Those electronic black-and-white pixillated squares that look like interference are now stamped on every other ad, waiting to be unlocked by the app on our mobile phones (if we have such things), in order to supply us with more information. I won’t moan about the amount of supplements in our swollen Saturday and Sunday newspapers, for fear of jinxing them out of existence, but there again is an information overload, bagged up.

Perhaps it’s a benign public service to constantly shuffle things to the top of charts, so that we only need trouble ourselves with what’s already popular. But I worry – and I know I shouldn’t – that perhaps this accepted algorithm is killing our freedom of choice. There are a lotta books on Amazon. There is no meaningful way you can “browse” the site, despite the use of that word; in reality, you’re at the mercy of having books suggested to you based on … books you’ve previously looked at. Never mind books you’ve previously bought. I must admit I sometimes use Amazon as a journalistic resource. It’s free! But if you look a book or DVD up, for research, it will affect what other books and DVDs Amazon hawks at you. “Like this? You’ll love this!” Not necessarily. Amazon currently thinks I want to buy Coriolanus on DVD, because I recently looked up the BBC Television Shakespeares box set simply to see how many discs were in it for a link in my Telly Addict column. Fail!

Talking of books. My first memoir, Where Did It All Go Right?, defied low expectation and crept up into the Top 10 non-fiction paperback bestsellers back in 2003. I discovered at that time that WHSmith runs its outlets at stations and airports as a satellite to its high street stores; I also discovered that this is precisely where you want your paperback displayed. The thing is, once it’s in the Top 20, say, at those vital station and airport shops, it’s more likely to be picked up by a browser waiting for the call to go to their gate. The popularity of that book is thus almost guaranteed: it’s displayed at head height in the chart section, ergo it gets bought and stays in the chart section. Honestly, WDIAGR? lingered at head height for months. It wasn’t because it was one of the best books on sale, merely one of the most visible.

So, the seeding of that which is already popular is not new. In the old days, when the pop charts were based on people going out and buying round black discs at the weekend – as opposed to being based on people clicking a mouse or trackpad at literally any time of the day or night – it really mattered what was on Top Of The Pops, or conveniently displayed in Woolworths. These days, the equivalent is whatever’s in the revolving banner ad on the iTunes store homepage, or any of its generic tributaries. (When the Collings & Herrin Podcast found favour with a comedy nerd who worked on the iTunes Store webpage and then started to chart highly, as long as we kept producing one a week, our prominence was ensured.)

The Long Tail is an attractive concept: that with electronic shopping, an outlet without floor space to contend with can almost literally offer anything and everything, and the most obscure item in the shop will drive turnover as readily as your bestselling loss-leaders. But as the online stores have got deeper and deeper – and the tail longer – I wonder if customers aren’t more likely to be just adding to the pre-packed myth of “popularity”, and picking up that which is already trending? (Something trends; people chase it; it trends some more.)

Me? I’m old fashioned or moribund enough to still prefer books that fall open at well-thumbed pages, and shops you can poke around in with racks that can be thumbed. That said, you will find this widget on this blog, which makes me a massive hypocrite. I’m quite looking forward to a blog entry called “You must read this blog entry” going to the top of the charts, where it will stay FOREVER.

PS: Now that my situationist prank has succeeded (see: below), I’ll change the title of the post back to its original.

Be nice to each other

If you didn’t see The Anti-Social Network, Richard Bacon’s timely BBC3 investigation into internet “trolls”, cyber-bullying and the desecration of RIP tribute sites, you’ve a couple more days before it disappears from the iPlayer. I hope the BBC repeat it; it really is required viewing if you regularly spend time on the internet, especially if you use Twitter or Facebook. The fact is, there’s some nasty stuff going on at the more anonymous end of the worldwide web. We all know about trolls. In the past, on this blog, and on Twitter, and more recently when I’ve put my head above the parapet on the notoriously brutish Guardian website, I’ve been lightly trolled. My first response is always to reason with them, but this pretty much always backfires, because a) they are aiming to elicit an emotional response and in doing so you “feed” them and encourage them, and b) they don’t respond well to reason, or calm, or any of the other tools I often use on detractors or the just plain rude.

A couple of weeks ago, and this is atypical of the majority of the dialogue that unfolds there, some bright spark posted this comment beneath my Telly Addict column on the Guardian site:

“Andrew Collins is ill-qualified to judge the creative efforts of others; the shows he has been involved in writing – the truly lamentable Grass, and Not Going Out – have been, without exception, excrement.”

Excrement. Now, clearly, this person (and let’s go mad and assume it’s a “he”) is entitled to his opinion, and to state it in a public forum. After all, the digital Guardian encourages it – nay, demands it! I pointlessly rose to it, but with a fairly vanilla response about the subjectivity of opinion, mine and his. He responded:

“Well done, you have recognised my comment as an opinion and therefore subjective, give yourself a pat on the back. That is exactly the kind of pedantry I would expect. You don’t respond well to criticism at all do you? If you are going to work in a creative field you are going to have learn to accept it.”

Thanks for the advice. Now, to be fair, this is not typical behaviour for a troll, so let’s go mad and say that this man isn’t one. However, when somebody puts their hand up and tells you that your work is “excrement” they are using the tactics of a troll. It all comes down to manners in the end.

Which is why I am about to republish my Manners Manifesto from January 2008, except updated to include manners on the internet, which is a growth area for rudeness.

The non-troll above is right in the sense that, yes, I do work in a “creative field”, and I can be thin-skinned sometimes, but I don’t accept that in this field, I must “accept” having my work called “excrement” by a man hiding behind a pseudonym, totally untraceable, when my “creative” work is done in public, in forums where I am totally identifiable and traceable.

I have been moderating comments on this blog for years now, and the abuse has pretty much dried up, which rather proves that without a platform, trolls soon lose interest.

My guess – and I may be wrong – is that if the man above met me in the street, or in a social situation, he would not tell me that he thought Grass and Not Going Out were “excrement.” He would either not mention it, or he would say that he didn’t really like them, if pushed for a preference. He wouldn’t, because if he did, it would be rude. Here is the news: it is just as rude on a website.

Anyway, I bet he hasn’t seen every episode of Not Going Out. Episode Two of Series 3, which I co-wrote, was BRILLIANT.

The Manners Manifesto 2012 will follow over the next couple of days – I want to post it separately so that it can be accessed in its pure form. In the meantime, be nice to each other, as Derek Batey used to say on Mr & Mrs.

Print this out

Time to review a book. Yes, a book. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr has really had its hooks in me for the past couple of weeks. (If it wasn’t in hardback, I’d have taken it out with me on the train and finished it sooner.) I was told it would scare me. It sort of did, although it tells universal truths which everyone who uses a computer, and especially the internet, already knows but would probably just rather not think about. Carr is an American business and technology writer, and former editor of the Harvard Business Review. He’s clever. He’s readable. What he’s not is a Luddite. You should know that. The Shallows seems to have grown out of an essay he wrote for Atlantic magazine called Is Google Making Us Stupid? Let’s proceed from that starting point.

Carr is roughly the same generation as me – a bit older, born in Cincinnati in 1959, but pretty excited when Star Wars came out and an early Apple adopter; at the beginning of the book, to set out his stall, he describes the way his own life has been gradually changed through an enthusiasm for computers and what used to be called the World Wide Web. He’s as wired today as you probably are. You’re reading this on a blog, probably on a laptop, or a home PC, or an iPad. Why not print it out, if you’re hooked up to a printer, and read it on A4? After hearing the alarm bells set off by The Shallows, you may be tempted to do this more often, even though you won’t. Who’s got the time? Carr brilliantly described the internet, which we all understand, in ways we hadn’t thought of: as a “cacophony of stimuli,” as an “ecology of interruption technologies” … he even mines TS Eliot’s Four Quartets for the phrase “distracted by distraction from distraction.” You know he’s right. You’re probably distracted from reading this already.

By dipping in and out of research conducted largely on humans, he is able to make academic what we already suspect: that constant, daily use of the internet, and search engines, and hyperlinks, is rewiring our brains, and not necessarily for the greater good. Carr understands why computer evangelists over the last couple of decades have worked themselves up into an apparently Utopian lather about how much cleverer we are since PCs became ubiquitous, and how much more efficient our lives are, particularly in terms of sourcing information at the click of a mouse or keypad. But he questions the 1980s orthodoxy that the hyperlink represents “the technology of liberation.” (In fact, experiments conducted in the early 90s disproved this, showing that hypertext readers could often “not remember what they had and had not read”.) Each click or glance is “a small interruption of thought, a momentary redeployment of of mental resources.” The way information is presented on the net is “a concentration-fragmenting mishmash”; it is “an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention.” (By the way, while typing that paragraph, even though it is 07.48am, I checked my emails.)

Carr also reminds us that it is in Google’s “economic interest” that we click as often as possible. “The last thing [Google] wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.” Carr presents a number of compelling images, few more compelling, and depressing, than this one: the internet, he says, “provides a high-speed system for delivering responses and rewards – ‘positive reinforcements’ in psychological terms – which encourage the repetition of both physical and mental actions … It turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment”

In case we think any of this is new, Carr provides useful potted histories of the advent of the clock (monks, it turns out, divided the day up into units of time and built the first mechanical timekeepers, so that they could follow their regimented regimes of prayer) and of printed books, which caused a moral panic far greater than the one caused by Google; a man called Robert Burton wrote a book in 1628 called An Anatomy Of Melancholy, in which he described, with alarm, “the vast chaos and confusion of books”. This was a century after the Gutenberg press made the printed book a reality. “We are oppressed with them,” he wrote. “Our eyes ache with reading, our fingers with turning.” Books, you see, were destroying the centuries-old oral tradition.

Unsurprisingly, Carr is a fan of the book. His sentiments echo those I expressed in a recent Word column in which I denounced the Kindle. Here’s Carr:

As a device for reading, the book retains some compelling advantages over the computer: you can take a book to the beach without worrying about getting sand in its works; you can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off; you can spill coffee on it; you can sit on it; you can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later, it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die.

Once transferred from page to screen, as so much of the printed word is in the process of being, from academic paper to novel, the “linearity of the book” is, he says, “shattered, along with the calm attentiveness it encourages in the reader.” He gives this example: try doing a crossword puzzle while reading a novel. Can’t be usefully done. (Actually, I find it hard enough to do a crossword puzzle while doing a crossword puzzle, but that’s another blog entry.)

There’s a lot of fairly dense stuff towards the end of The Shallows about how the brain works, which I found hard to follow not because I was doing a crossword at the same time, but because I’m not a medical man. However, in brief, short term memories only become long term memories after a delicate process, one that can be interrupted by, as Carr puts it, “a jab to the head or a simple distraction”. Forgive me, scientists, if I have picked this up incorrectly, but the hippocampus seems to be the ancient part of the brain that acts as our “navigational centre”, a taxi driver’s mental maps are stored there; it also forms and manages our memories. Our brains are not like computers, as sexy as that sounds to people who work on buzzing campuses in Palo Alto and go around on scooters, even though both have capacity for memory storage: “Biological memory is alive. Computer memory is not.”

It’s a scary book, because I know for a fact that my neural pathways have been, and are being, altered by constant attention to the internet. Most of my working day involves sitting at this MacBook, with wi-fi on, writing; and that requires research, which is all done with clicking, even though some days I am working in a library full of books. Anyone else see an irony in that? Google is a lot quicker and more efficient than the British Library, at least in an instant where I want to look up the exact date of the Gutenberg press on Wikipedia, which I just did.

While writing The Shallows, Carr moved to the wilds of Colorado where he had no cellphone signal and only “a poky DSL connection”; he packed in Twitter and Facebook, cancelled RSS feeds and set hs email programme to check for new emails every hour, not every minute. He sort of hated it, but it helped him get his book written more quickly. He’s back on the drip now, incidentally, because, as I said, he’s not a Luddite, he’s as wired up to the electronic teat as you and me. But his book makes you think. And it requires “deep reading”, as he puts it – that skill which is being eroded. The very fact that I read it in book form makes me feel smug. You might, too. I’m lucky, I was raised and educated in a world of books and comics and magazines; I even began my writing career in a world of newspaper cuttings services and typed on a typewriter – I at least appreciate both worlds and what they have to offer, and can toggle between the two; what chance does the generation whose schooling involved doing homework with Google have? None.

I’ll leave you with this erudite but apocalyptic passage from Carr. If there was a loom nearby, you sense he might have kicked the shit out of it. “Those who celebrate the ‘outsourcing’ of memory to the Web have been misled by a metaphor … What gives real memory its richness and its character, not to mention its mystery and fragility, is it contingency. It exists in time, changing as the body changes.” Culture, he says, “is more than the aggregate of what Google describes as ‘the world’s information.’ It’s more than can be reduced to binary code and uploaded. To remain vital, culture must be renewed in the minds of the members of every generation. Outsource memory, and culture withers.”

Inspired? I was.