I'm writing this on a ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, and a charming elderly couple next to me are doing something that is very unusual – sitting and talking to each other. They are not watching the many television screens dotted about the deck, offering hour after hour of mind-numbing detail from the Oscar Pistorius trial. They are not playing computer games, texting or listening to music. They have decided not to go and watch The Lego Movie in the cinema room.
My sociable neighbours are a dying breed. Last night, I spent five hours with my aunt and uncle in Llandudno. We talked, ate supper. The radio wasn't on. No one phoned. Time spent like this is increasingly rare. Technology has taken over our lives to an ominous degree.
A new report from the telecom regulator Ofcom says that (for the first time) the amount of time each day we spend using modern media exceeds the amount of time we sleep. On average, we spend eight hours and 21 minutes asleep, and 20 minutes longer than that watching television, listening to the radio, texting, browsing the internet, using computers to work, play games or socialise, and on the phone.
Along with face-to-face conversation, sleep seems to be the loser in modern life. People email, text and tweet now instead of verbally communicating. Some even do three things at once – watching media, commenting on it simultaneously on Twitter, and messaging. Ugh!
Ofcom reckons that six-year-olds know as much about technology as middle-aged adults, and that 14 and 15-year-olds spend 14 hours a day socially networking and texting.
At this rate, in a couple of hundred years' time, children will be born with atrophied voice boxes, fingers that have mutated into tech-friendly stumps. They will need lessons in how to talk. Writing will be a lost art.
Even now, after a couple of days at home writing on the computer and emailing, I have to make a conscious effort to telephone people or go shopping in order to have a spot of restorative human verbal interaction.
Sleep has become more elusive than finding a partner. Where are all these "average" people who get eight hours-plus? I've managed eight hours only once in the past year, and then only because I'd been up all night partying the night before.
Like most people, I normally exist on six hours – that paltry amount chiselled away by late-night tweeting or shopping when I return home after dinner or a movie. The problem with the internet is that it's always open for business, and with television on demand, so is home entertainment.
We can do anything we want at any time of the day or night, and yet the majority of couples say they're "too tired" for sex. The truth is, they prefer modern media to sex. It doesn't argue back or moan about your midriff bulge.
Is there a way to trade off technology downtime in return for sleep? Or will scientists devise a pill enabling us to manage on even less sleep, so we can spend even more time online? If so, God knows how we'll be persuaded to procreate. - The Independent