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Modern life

Life was rubbish before smartphones

Pride and Prejudice: just “killing time” as they wait for social media?

The online PE teacher Joe Wicks recently announced that he “considers himself addicted to his smartphone”, says Sam Leith in The Spectator. He even forced himself to take five days off social media to be more “present” with his children. But are smartphones really so bad? We’re “routinely warned” that scrolling on them releases dopamine, the same chemical your brain produces when you have sex or exercise. “Yet having sex and doing exercise are widely held to be good things.” And why should the undesirable and the lazy be “deprived of all that yummy dopamine”?

Our phones are like a pocket version of the Great Library of Alexandria – on them, you can read “the greatest and wisest and most beautiful things that humankind has ever produced”, or watch “fantastically entertaining videos of teenagers huffing great spoonfuls of cinnamon”. And though social media is full of obnoxious bores, it’s also packed with “many of the brainiest and best informed and most interesting people”, dissecting the affairs of the world in real time. I suppose we’re all meant to be having real-life conservations instead of staring at our screens. But “having a chat” is what we did for entertainment before we had entertainment, and it is deadly. “All the characters in Jane Austen were, essentially, killing time while they waited for smartphones to be invented.”