Kezia Dugdale: Phones are making folk a lot less smart

Ten years ago, we were on the cusp of the original iPhone's first birthday. One in every eight people had a phone in their pocket which did more than simply call people. It was the beginning of the smart phone era and it felt liberating. So much data and information. A world of possibility at your fingertips.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 7th August 2018, 4:29 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th August 2018, 4:33 pm
Ofcom says 20 per cent of Britons spend as much as 40 hours a week on their smartphones. Picture: Getty
Ofcom says 20 per cent of Britons spend as much as 40 hours a week on their smartphones. Picture: Getty

A decade on and Ofcom, the ­telecommunications regulator, have published a new report on the ­technology in our lives and it turns out that we’re addicted.

So addicted in fact that the nearly 80 per cent of us who now own a smartphone are checking it on ­average every 12 minutes. Our use is now so prolific that we’re spending an average of 24 hours a week online. For 20 per cent of us it’s as much as 40 hours a week.

The reality is that the world now divides neatly into two categories of people: those with their heads firmly down scrolling up, often as we walk, eat, watch TV and meet with friends versus those who tut and groan at this phenomenon which doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

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A youngster picks strawberies at Craigie's Farm. Picture: Jon Savage

I used to be in that former category. Checking Twitter would be the first thing I did in the morning or the last thing I did it at night. I’d justify it by saying that’s where I got my news and it was essential for doing my job.

When I wasn’t scrolling through political news on Twitter, I’d be watching friends’ lives unfold on Facebook interspersed with cat videos. When that all got too much, I’d tune in to Instagram to look at pictures of perfect food and perfect Kodak moments. Living a pixelated life and ignoring the real one in front of me. Not only is that a ­complete and utter waste of instantly forgettable white noise, it’s making us a lazy and ugly race.

First of all we’re forgetting how to do anything for ourselves. Few of us now own a road atlas, let alone use it. We book tables and haircuts and buy our shopping without interacting with any actual human beings.

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Then when we do talk to each other online it’s often without context and full of limitations. We follow people who think like us and revel in our own righteousness by retweeting and perpetuating our own beliefs.

We follow those we disagree with only to rage at how wrong they are. Few people tweet their indecision or comment on the grey areas of life. These formats force us to pick a side, a team, a tribe and hate the other.

I realised this when I travelled to Australia last year to take part in a certain TV show. Upon arrival, I had all electronic devices removed from my possession. I was forced to go cold turkey and after the first 48 hours of wondering what do with my thumbs, I didn’t miss it. We are wasting our lives with our heads in our phones. A technology designed to enable us is crushing our creativity, free thinking and general nous. What’s worse is that it’s legitimising the behaviour of those who rule over us. People increasingly less willing to compromise or listen to an alternative view.

In a world of us versus them, I’ll chose the gang that isn’t obsessed with its battery life over its actual life.

Brown sign for family farm fun could bear fruit

As the soft fruit season comes to an end, we’ve had a short and sharp insight into what Brexit could look like.

After reading reports about fruit rotting in the fields due to labour shortages, I got in touch with the National Farmers Union to see if I could meet any farmers in the Lothian region and find out how they were faring. It took me to Craigie’s farm and their acres of strawberries and rasps. The cherries have been and gone but the apples are still to come.

John Sinclair, who runs Craigie’s could not have been kinder as we walked the perimeter of his land and he answered my daft townie questions.

He’s the fourth generation of his family to farm the land. Those decades saw dairy and beef farming evolve to what is now as much a deli and cafe business as it is a working farm.

In fact, what he has built is a fantastic day out for families. The shortage of labour doesn’t affect him because his “pick your own” approach clears the fruit for him.

There are plenty of farm yard animals to admire and learn about, a playground and abundance of ice cream to keep the kids sweet.

Why then does the farm have such trouble getting the support it needs to operate as tourist attraction? All the farm wants is a brown road sign to guide the way from the main arterial route to Fife, but council bods say no.

The rules over what constitutes a tourist attraction vary from council to council. There’s a sign to guide you to chippies in Fife but not for a hugely successful family farm this side of the water. That’s got to change.

It’s all Brexit and Boris at the Fringe – so Matt’s Scottish satire is welcome

Today’s political world is in many ways ripe for a satirical takedown at the Fringe, so it’s hardly a surprise that the brochure is bristling with shows about Brexit and Boris.

What might have been an outlandish tale 20 years ago is now a vivid reality. Who would have thought in the late 90s that America could produce a president more divisive and less intelligent than George W Bush. That an MP who had been on the fringes of his own party for 30 years would now be considered a Prime Minister in waiting.

The ability to laugh at ourselves and, indeed, our leaders is surely the hallmark of a healthy democracy. So it has always bothered me that there’s so little satire about the Scottish Parliament, save for one or two sketches on Only an Excuse at Hogmanay, when everyone’s a little too far gone to appreciate it.

Comedy done outwith Scotland about Scottish politics often jars too. Tracy Ullman’s take on Nicola Sturgeon and Mhairi Black was passably funny the first time but now just feels crass and lacking an analysis beyond shortbread tins and Irn-Bru jokes.

I’ve watched Matt Forde grow from the benches of small to large Pleasance venues over the past few years. He’s built his reputation on proper political analysis and his shows are scrupulously balanced, ripping apart Labour, Tory and SNP politicians in equal measure. It’s a must-see show at the Fringe this year, even if the jokes cut a little too close to the bone.