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now hops on and off the waterbus without looking up from his or her mobile phone. And I, of course, amequally guilty: I have brought the last pages of this issue withme to write, having run out of time to complete the job before leaving withmy daughter and niece to drive themacross Europe to performin the Venice Carnival. We find ourselves “playing” with smartphones in a way we never did with


the functional handle of a traditional telephone because, whereas the first telephone was designed by engineers thinking in functional terms, today’s mobiles are built in dialogue withmarketers who have carefully noted how colour and curve, brightness and texture, heft and sizemake us feel. Jonathan Safran Foermakes this point in his book Here I Am. He writes:

“Most of our communication technologies began as substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldn’t always see one another face to face, so the telephonemade it possible to keep in touch at a distance. The answering machinemade amessage possible without the person being near their phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster andmoremobilemessaging. “But then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished

substitutes. It’s easier tomake a phone call than tomake the effort to see someone in person. Leaving amessage on someone’smachine is easier than having a phone conversation. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up. Shooting off an email is easier still, because one can further hide behind the absence of vocal inflection, and of course there’s no chance of accidentally catching someone. With texting, the expectation for articulateness is further reduced, and another shell is offered to hide in. Each step ‘forward’ hasmade it easier – just a little – to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.” Now we have a US president governing by Tweet; the Lithuanian

president commented that the best way to forma relationship with Trump is to follow his Twitter feed. Isn’t it possible that technology, in the forms in which it has entered our everyday lives, has diminished us? And isn’t it possible that it is getting worse? It is not a question of being “anti-technology” or “pro-technology”, but a question of getting the right balance in our lives.  Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is published by Hamish Hamilton.

to prefer the diminished substitutes

We began ’

riting this column overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, I amstruck once again by howmuch the young people in my company aremissing out on their surroundings by having their heads in their devices. The average Venetian

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