There isn’t a single conceivable quandary that can’t be met with a response along the lines “use the Internet – it will tell you”. It’s really quite heart-breaking. Just a few years ago, if I’d wanted to master the relaxing art of water-colouring or learn an Asian language, I’d have sought out a friend, a relative, enrolled in a class – interacted with real-life human beings. Not any more though.
I, like everyone, am fair amount more bored, a lot more impatient and probably more insular. I’d rather log onto YouTube and watch some Chinese genius teach me how to create a breathtaking landscape in easy to follow, pause-able steps; then maybe the same guy can give me a quick lesson on the pluperfect tense in Mandarin. I can stay on the sofa in my jim-jams – no need to leave the house. Being an asocial hermit has never been so convenient.
Yep – we have all become the “google it” generation. And by generation I don’t mean age. Everyone – from 10 to 70 years old is at it. People can go get stuffed, laptops are our helpers, coaches and teachers.
We’ve certainly lost something. But what have we gained? Information has been democratised. If I wasn’t lucky enough to get DIY lessons from my Dad, no matter – surrogate father YouTube will show me how to hold a screwdriver. If I’m a poor boy in an African village, I can connect through my school computer and discover the world of news, politics and football just like every other lad on the planet. Maybe it’s a positive.
Even my mum, erstwhile technophobe, has renounced the human being. The other day she used this exact sentence to marshall her partner Danny into action.
“I just googled: How to create a drainage flowerbed in the garden. Now you can just copy what ‘s printed out…”
Wow. Impressive use of technology, mum; plus she managed to get Danny off the sofa watching Netflix (the streaming service is of course another internet solution to all the human being didn’t know they wanted).
I wanted to test my hypothesis that all man really needs is the internet. I mean, really test it. This is how my new series, “Stupid Man, Smartphone” came about. Me and a BBC camera crew rocked up to some of the most desolate places on Earth and tried to survive. From the nethers-freezing Arctic Circle, to the bone-bleaching African desert, we were dropped in with nothing but an ex SAS guy who could intervene if I was about to kill myself with plain idiocy.
Oh…. and I had one more thing vital to the experiment: a smartphone with internet and battery power. Each episode had a ridiculous mission too: like “transport this camel”. Imagine me, a Bear Grylls with no skills, sobbing in an icy forest for my mother. I’d never even been to the loo outside. Many, many psychological boundaries had to be crossed…. but I have to say….. the internet saved my backside (pardon the pun).
A few times I found myself in possession of a dead animal not having a clue how to turn it from repulsive carcass into succulent meat. Or I was shivering with no lighter, in open snow. Or the rain was coming, and I had no shelter. I must confess, on all of these occasions Google, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope, YouTube and especially Skype – came to the informational rescue.
Used properly, the internet is a benevolent robot helper who can, in my case, quite literally help you to survive. Used poorly it’s a lazy crutch, a narcissistic mirror and a time wasting pool of vanilla noise. It’s down to you how you use it. I will say this though:
If you ever find yourself in African scrubland for three days, with no bathroom access whatsoever, I beg you, google “how to dig a drop toilet in hard sand”. You won’t be sorry. You may even, like I did, cry down Skype to your Mum afterwards.
Stupid Man, Smart Phone is available on Sunday 1st May on BBC3