27th May 2016
I’m troubled by some omissions in Suzanne Moore’s enjoyably feisty article (Social media may cause anxiety but it is simply unrealistic to expect people to go without, 20 May).
First, those of us who don’t particularly like the internet, find ourselves increasingly force-fed with it. I resist having my options usurped in this fundamentalist way.
Second, there’s a huge environmental downside to the digital age. The raw materials for our endlessly proliferating, continually outdated then trashed gadgetry have heavy ecological impacts on their place of origin, often countries with minimal protection for labour or the environment. Interpol estimates that a third of shipping containers leaving Europe are laden with electronic waste, which is traded by criminal consortia and illegally dumped in the developing world, where it leaches long-term toxins into air, soil and water.
Third, research on the effects on human health of the tidal wave of electro-magnetic radiation, generated by WiFi and mobile phones, that we are all willy-nilly subjected to, is scarifying. Studies show exposure can cause brain tumours, alter endocrine and cardiac function, damage free radicals, reduce sperm counts and scramble brain function. Is this the nicotine and asbestos of the 21st century? Does tweeting cause Rome to burn?
The digital revolution, like its industrial counterpart, is a house built on sand, on lies. On the one hand it has transformed communication; on the other, it embodies a massive communication failure, since it externalises its ecocidal costs, its excrement, onto ecosystems on whose wellbeing our own depends; onto less entitled humans; and onto the future, an intensely personal place sheltering my small grandchildren.
The digital age, which simultaneously bypasses and destroys the biosphere, may be smart but is it wise? Like the man in the Sufi tale who persists in searching under the streetlight for his key, rather than in the dark where he dropped it, are we looking for answers in the wrong place? Ecologist Eugene Odum wrote; “There is more information of a higher order of sophistication and complexity stored in a few square yards of forest than in all the libraries of mankind…information that has been flowing for millions of years.” Is this why I opt out of the internet, and into my garden, this small patch of earth I tend in its wild, wise, weedy, evolving, intricate, blooming glory?
Peace be earthily with you