Why I don’t agree with independent living
Before I am assailed by many of my colleagues from user-led and disability groups, let me come clean with what I mean by ‘independent living’. In this context, I am not thinking of the assistance which is given to those with physical disability to enable them to go about their lives without having to ask for help from another person.
What I have trouble with is the way attitudes in society are developing, alongside technological advances to enable us to live life in personalised packages isolated from everyone else. A kind of ‘airplane meal life’ where everything is wrapped up neatly in individual portions, not intended to be shared or interfered with by others. I think that mobile technology and the internet have made this type of uninterrupted living possible. Let me ask you this: when was the last time a friend popped in to see you unannounced because they were in the area? Mobile phones shield us from possible doorstep rejection, even if the rejection likely to be encountered is from an empty house. Why not have some fun visiting a friend unannounced, see them with their hair uncombed, or with the house untidy! Expect them to do the same for you.
I remember being with a group of young people 10 years ago for a study time. Before we started, and after we had finished, everyone was silently texting people not present. In fact, I bet that as soon as they left, they would texting folk they had just been sitting next to. The text was a controlled piece of communication – I often say text and email is not communication, but messaging – like the telegraph of old; it is a ‘fire and forget’ way to push information out.
This summer, I was fortunate to visit some of the most beautiful spots in the UK, the North Antrim Coastline and Pembrokeshire. At one point, I paused and looked at my wife and I and realised we were effectively viewing the scenery through our smartphone screens, rather than laying all that aside and enjoying the moment. This was very well demonstrated by the Queen’s visit to the BBC in June, where many there held out their phones to record the moment and watched it on the small screen rather than looking at Her Majesty with their own eyes1. It is fascinating when the film of the visit is compared to a previous visit in 1960s; no iPhones and more opportunity to take in the moment.
A friend recently pointed out the prophetic nature of the Simon & Garfunkel song, The Sound of Silence.
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach out you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
In the wells of silence.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whisper’d in the sounds of silence.”
This seems to be an allegory of our time.
Technology is enabling a way of controlling our interactions with others. It has a way of cocooning us and can encourage behaviour which is harmful. Sam Leith in the Evening Standard notes that the addictions to gadgets and social networking has lead a company in the USA to start digital detox camps2, focused on ‘offlining’ – people are shut away from work, gadgets and the internet. More concerning than the effect to adults and individuals is the affect to children and family life, “An entire generation is learning by observation, from infanthood, that they come second to the smartphone in the queue for parental attention3”
The Social Care white paper ‘Caring for our Future’ states: ‘more than a million people aged over 65 report feeling lonely often or always’. There are many other statistics confirming the issue of loneliness for many other groups of people. It hardly seems possible that with the growth of ‘communication’ aids, the increase in population, and the improvement over generations of living standards, that people are feeling more alone. Yet, this may well be the real result of globalisations which seemingly brings us closer but helps us segment away from one another.
In amongst this, we know that living alone, with little interaction with others, is not good for health. In fact, a fall or minor injury is made much worse and much more expensive if there is not community and family around to discover the problem and to aid in the recovery.
I say bring back the uninvited visitor, the spontaneous interaction of humans. I, for one, don’t what to live my life within the confines of a smartphone screen.
3. ^ Ibid.