Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Wild world v the mobile phone

Once upon a time, not so long ago, if you heard a person talking to themselves in the street you assumed they were mentally disturbed or deficient. Now you assume they’re talking to someone somewhere else.
That someone may be sitting in a restaurant or bar ignoring the person they’re actually with. But that’s OK, because that person too is present in body only.
Their mind is on the friend far away who they are texting, or Facebooking, or Skyping, or Snapchatting with.
All those invisible waves, all those conversations, all that mostly pointless information filling the air between us all. It’s pretty weird when you stop to think about it.
As a society we’ve become addicted to our mobile phones and estranged from the world that’s really around us.
Which is a pity, because there’s a lot of stuff to see if we keep our eyes open to it.
Like birds, those wonderful, fascinating, beautiful creatures that live lives so different from ours while largely sharing our space.
Look about you, especially at this time of year, and there’s a David Attenborough-style wildlife documentary permanently going on around us.
I had a great illustration of this the other day as I was crossing the green near my home.
A few yards ahead of me a young woman was walking into town, eyes glued to her phone.
Suddenly she recoiled in shock, uttering a cry that may have been: “What the…?”
She hadn’t noticed the blackbird that flew fast and panicking close by her. But she couldn’t fail to react to the sparrowhawk pursuing it.
It was so intent on its prey that it only avoided flying straight into her face by doing the hawk equivalent of a handbrake turn.
Some wild things just never seem to notice all the amazing human life that goes on around them all the time.


England reach the World Cup semi-final only to lose a desperately close match 1-0 to the host nation.
They then lose the third-place play-off too, 2-0 to highly-fancied Argentina. Unlucky, lads.
Not a prediction, but genuine events of the weekend just passed.
The lads in question are the England hockey team.
Meanwhile, in the footy, England won their seventh World Cup match in a row. The women’s 3-0 win in Belarus means they are all but certain to finish top of their qualifying group and go into next year’s finals in Canada among the favourites.
If you missed those achievements by our national sides, you can perhaps be forgiven on a weekend of so much sporting excitement.
There was the first cricket Test of the summer, with England struggling to take full advantage of Joe Root’s imperious double century at Lord’s.
There was the second Test in New Zealand, where England’s rugby union side were soundly thrashed by the All Blacks – 28-27. (And where a streaker was variously described by BBC radio co-commentators as “well-endowed” and “he or she”, either frustrating or tickling your imagination, depending on your imagination.)
There was England’s Justin Rose trailing in the wake of Germany’s Martin Kaymer in a vain bid to retain his US Open golf title.
There was England’s (or Kenya’s, if you happen to be Kenyan) Chris Froome unsuccessfully defending his Critérium du Dauphiné cycling title – with much more than one eye on the next title he has to defend, the Tour de France.
And Scotland’s Andy Murray, who also has a rather more significant defence coming up, failing to keep even one hand on the trophy at Queens Club.
No shame to you, with all that going on, if you happened to take your eye off the hockey ball.
In case you missed the final too, England’s conquerors Holland were whupped 6-1 by Australia.
With all this important sport to keep track of, small wonder if more trivial matters such as the increasing domination of the global economy by a small cabal of multi-national companies slip out of the global news agenda.


“It’s a very traditional British landscape image,” the artist says. “A classical British landscape, rolling hills and little stone houses.
 “The surveillance base is just another element in the landscape.”
The Constable-inspired image, shot in North Yorkshire, is the work of photographer Trevor Paglen. It will be unveiled on Thursday at Gloucester Road station in London, home of the Art on the Underground project. The 60-metre long print goes the full length of the District Line platform.
It is part of a series of photos the American Paglen has taken of surveillance installations from Nevada to Afghanistan. The “blank spots on the map”.
“I think mass surveillance is a bad idea,” Paglen says. “When people understand that they are constantly monitored they are more conformist… and that kind of mass conformity is incompatible with democracy.”
He’s right. Check him out at

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