Two years ago I bought myself a Nespresso machine for Christmas. I love coffee and when a friend demonstrated his prized possession to me, I felt compelled to invest in one myself. Now at the touch of a button, in the comfort of my home, I can enjoy an americano, latte or cappuccino. On my travels I drink less coffee because the quality of the cuppa produced at home is superior to the often-suspect cuppas available at the service stations or cafes throughout the land. I am visiting less and less coffee shops.
Over a decade ago, when pubs were very busy, I remember being a participant in a conversation about the growing number of off-licenses dotted around the country. They were perceived as a threat to the future of the traditional Irish pub. A friend interjected and said that the future of the pub was secure because a pint of creamy Guinness was something that could only flow from the tap at the local hostelry. The bottled Guinness at the off-licence was an old man’s drink, he said, and it didn’t taste as good as the draught black stuff pulled from the tap. However, a few years later Guinness launched a new can with an innovative device in its base. This patented widget works by creating a nucleation point, allowing the CO2 to be released from the liquid, which comes into contact with it, thus assisting in maintaining the head on the beer. No need to go to the pub for a cool creamy Guinness anymore!
When banks introduced ATMs many people made the observation that this technology would remove the need for tiresome queues at the counters. Maybe this was a good thing! The reality is that with them and the advent of internet banking, the need to interact with human beings has decreased. At that time we were of the opinion that the hole-in-the-wall would never completely remove the need to deal with real people because money could not be lodged through them. However, banks have recently introduced machines through which you can lodge cheques and cash without the need to interact with a staff member. No need to visit the local branch anymore!
And the video store has closed. You can download the movie from you sofa through Netflix or iTunes. No recommendations or feedback from a friendly staff member behind the counter. Only a handful of record stores weather the storm, as downloading becomes the norm for music purchases too. And children can play online every night with someone they don’t know and will never meet. We no longer need to congregate together around the television each night for the news bulletin. We are updated throughout the day on our own devices. Indeed, we can watch all our own programmes on our own. There is a television in every room! When I was growing up we had only two TV channels. The choice of programmes was so limited that you had to visit your friends or you’d be bored brainless!! With SKY and NTL we have hundreds of channels at our disposal. What about our local bookstores? We are definitely witnessing their demise as Amazon.com and others vacuum the book market. No need for a chat with the shopkeeper about the best sellers! Groceries can be ordered online and delivered to the door!! The butcher cannot point out the best cuts. No need for a staff member to walk you to your car.
It’s not that I am an old fogy! It’s not that I want to halt the technological revolution or curb innovative ideas. But I am very conscious that although houses were built close together the people in them have grown further apart. More and more of our everyday chores are becoming the stuff of pressing buttons or clicking the mouse. More and more hours are spent at home doing things on our own.
However, scientific studies into life satisfaction tell us that people need people. People need to connect to each other. The greatest friend of depression is solitude. You do not have to live on your own to experience it. You only have to disconnect. I remember when my late mother died I received a text message of sympathy from someone who could have phoned me. Or walked to my door. I am not judging that person but spoken words have more meaning. In our lives it’s important that we legislate for this vital connection to our fellow beings. It is becoming easier to become detached and harder to remain connected. Maybe the spirit of community life in Ireland is fading away. Maybe the more we connect to technology the more we are disconnecting from people in a real sense.
(c) Shane Martin
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