Close up of people using mobile smart phones - Detail of friends sharing photos on social media network with smartphone - Technology concept and cellphone culture with selective focus on right hand

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Recently I made a call to my Spanish bank and ended up having the most fascinating and absorbing
of conversations with the young staff member. I could never hope for such an inspiring and intellectual conversation with staff at my UK bank who are predictably dull and read from a prescribed script whenever I call.

We were discussing the ‘new order’, automation, advances in technology and the way all of us would be continuously tracked and assessed in the future. His assessment of the current situation and technological intel was alarming and filled me with sadness. I was aware of some of it but what he told me made me fear for future generations. Despite our age difference, we both admitted to feeling a deep nostalgia for the past and the freedom of thought and movement that certainly my generation enjoyed.

I lived during an era when none of us habitually used mobiles or computers and we didn’t have ‘trigger warnings’ on literature and nor did nannying governments have to tell the seemingly obtuse public that cyclones, heavy storms and unremitting rain represented a potential ‘risk to life.’ We had to make intelligent assessments, be streetwise and evaluate the choices we made and the opinions we formed without intervention – including about what or not to eat and drink. We had to learn to accept that others had opinions that differed from our own and that was not an excuse for hatred and bigotry but rather a wonderful opportunity for lively debate and enlightenment.

These days, you either belong to one frothing-with-rage, deluded self-serving camp or another and neither has the humanity, humility or desire to listen to the other’s point of view. Some of these vicious groups spring from religious fervour and warped belief systems while others just hold sinister and contemptable views that threaten the very fabric of a peaceable society.

At my northern red brick university we held rigorous debates and countless demos to promote causes, had wild and wicked musicians visiting the campus, and enjoyed intellectually-challenging tutorials. We were from all walks of life and many of my friends were from tough, northern, working-class communities. Most were the first in their families to attend university and their communities were fiercely proud of their achievements. They were feisty, friendly, brilliant and invariably had a wonderful sense of humour. I am grateful that most of us have remained in touch to this day despite all that has happened throughout the decades.

Much as I relished returning to my beloved university campus a few years ago, it was a disillusioning experience. Our spit-and sawdust, raucous union bar had become a twee eatery. The campaigning office where we’d gather before a solidarity march had become a gift shop with drab, branded merchandise you’d find anywhere, and a nails and beauty salon had been installed.

What the…? My favourite workman’s café which served us chip butties and tea day and night was burned down long ago by a drunk but it was the place to meet and play music and we’d all proudly carve our names on the walls or seats as was tradition. Part of our staple diet was broken biscuits from Leeds market which could keep hunger at bay for hours. None of us had any money and were the better for it as we appreciated everything that we had.

I comfort myself that there are still faraway places to escape the march of soulless technology and the constant monitoring of our lives but they won’t exist for much longer. If in the future it all becomes too much and we are still allowed to travel, I’ll be the first to don my rucksack and head off. I’d rather take my chances in the deepest, most terrifyingly raw and beautiful of sweaty jungles where nature’s heart still beats.

Author tit-for-tat spats

An ugly spat has arisen between famed authors, J K Rowling and Joanne Harris, that ill becomes either of them. Following the shocking stabbing of author, Salman Rushdie, at a book event in the States, JK Rowling bravely defended the author on Twitter and immediately received a death threat from a Muslim extremist. It was inevitable as these days freedom of thought, opinion or expression is banned by Twitter trolls and hate groups. Just raising one’s nose above the parapet with any kind of view risks instant cancellation by society and with it, often the loss of livelihood and reputation.

However, bizarrely, Joanne Harris who is chair of the Authors Society (of which I am a member), posted a jokey mock quiz on her Twitter handle asking authors which of them had purportedly been given death threats. It was tasteless, immature and inappropriate given the severity of what happened to Salman Rushdie, and although she hastily removed the post when greeted with opprobrium, she stood by her decision to post it.

The nasty and embarrassing argument between the pair has made most of the national newspapers and absurdly turned into a debate about trans rights. It transpires that the two authors have long crossed swords on the issue but using Salman Rushdie’s stabbing to resurrect their personal spat, seems so wrong.

I simply cannot understand why we are no longer able to be tolerant as a society and to accept that others have different sexual orientation, views, thoughts and beliefs than our own. If we truly want to preserve a harmonious future for younger generations, it is imperative that we strive to be less judgemental and more understanding. With a world as old as ours, is it really that hard to achieve?