The screen dream is lulling us all into a night­mare

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE - Dar­ragh McManus

‘Be­hind the screens of the de­vices we use every day, there are thou­sands and thou­sands of the smartest de­sign­ers and en­gi­neers in the world – whose job it is to get us to click on the thing, to look at the thing.”

The speaker is tech guru, and for­mer Google em­ployee, James Wil­liams. The pro­gramme is Bring­ing Up Bri­tain (BBC Ra­dio 4). And the sub­ject is how gad­gets keep us glued to their screens.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search, the av­er­age mil­len­nial looks at their phone more than 150 times a day. And be­ing bru­tally hon­est, are the rest of us re­ally much bet­ter?

“Every time we pull out our de­vice,” Wil­liams con­tin­ues, “we’re go­ing up against (tech com­pa­nies) in that per­sua­sive bat­tle. Tech­nolo­gies in gen­eral, across the in­dus­try, are be­ing de­signed in this way, to cap­i­talise on our abil­i­ties and our weak­nesses.”

He adds, rather chill­ingly: “It’s a kind of power over our at­ten­tion on an un­prece­dented scale. And it’s more cen­tralised than ever: one per­son has power over what two bil­lion peo­ple think about and do on a daily ba­sis.”

Tech­nol­ogy of a dif­fer­ent type was caus­ing a prob­lem on Off the Ball (New­stalk, Mon-Fri 7pm, Sat 1pm, Sun 12noon). This was of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion, al­most vin­tage: the tele­phone.

Joe Mol­loy was in­ter­view­ing Roy Jones Jr, pos­si­bly the great­est boxer of all-time and an in­tel­li­gent, mul­ti­fac­eted char­ac­ter with a fas­ci­nat­ing back­story. Un­for­tu­nately, the lis­tener could barely hear him tell it.

I’m not sure what kind of line had been set up to Jones’ home in the US, but it sounded as though he was speak­ing from the moon, via an old ro­tary phone con­nec­tion, some­time in the 1930s. There was more crackle and static than ac­tual words at times.

To make mat­ters worse, the in­ter­view was com­pelling stuff, with Jones a some­time­sprickly, al­ways-in­ter­est­ing sub­ject. It even ended with a bizarre row be­tween the two men, as Jones (for God knows what rea­son) de­fended cock-fight­ing be­fore abruptly hang­ing up. But we couldn’t prop­erly hear it.

This wasn’t all Off the Ball’s fault — Jones’ strong ac­cent and quick speech didn’t help — but the bulk of it lies at the pro­gramme’s door. It’s a sim­ple re­al­ity: ra­dio doesn’t work if we can’t make out what’s be­ing said.

It’s a re­cur­ring prob­lem across ra­dio, but par­tic­u­larly New­stalk. The same show also in­ter­viewed Andy Mit­ten, ed­i­tor of a Manch­ester United fanzine, about José Mour­inho’s lat­est hissy-fit. He was speak­ing via Skype, with all the au­dio clar­ity (or lack of) that you’d ex­pect. This seems a bit “First World prob­lem”, but in this day and age, I think it’s rea­son­able to ask for rea­son­ably sharp sound on the air­waves.

Any­way: the same sta­tion had no au­dio is­sues with Town of Kings (Sun 7am), a doc­u­men­tary on the his­tory of Dún Laoghaire. I’m not the planet’s big­gest fan of his­tory, but this was en­gag­ing and lively, full of note­wor­thy facts and a lot of charm.

BBC Ra­dio 4’s To the Ends of the Earth (Sun 3pm) series con­tin­ued with 20,000 Leagues Un­der the Sea, the Jules Verne clas­sic. Cap­tain Nemo, the ter­ri­fy­ing gi­ant squid, that retro-fu­tur­is­tic steam-punk vibe: this stuff was made for adap­ta­tion, and Gre­gory Evans’ script, plus some su­perla­tive pro­duc­tion val­ues, made for a cork­ing hour of ra­dio.

Fi­nally, a well-de­served tip of the hat to Ra­dio Kerry who are air­ing two of the most in­ter­est­ing mu­sic shows around. The Global Vil­lage (Tue 9pm), hosted by JJ O’Shea, fo­cuses on world mu­sic; mean­while Brian Pri­est­ley’s That’s Jazz (Wed 9pm) pays homage to “the great Amer­i­can art-form”.

Both are ex­cel­lent in their own right, and an es­pe­cial treat to hear on lo­cal ra­dio.

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