Wrong turn

6th February 2015 at 00:00

If I ever suspected that, as a species, we've reached the end of the plank, I received confirmation today. I was on the way to a meeting somewhere in Holborn - I say "somewhere" because I am a digital settler and I do what digital settlers do: have no damn idea where I am. Normally I just turn up in the right city and trust Google Maps to apparate me to where I want to be. The Mars lander Beagle 2 had a clearer idea of where it was heading.

Fans of hubris will rub their thighs to hear that the moment I left the station, my phone went down like a domino. This left me about two minutes from where the universe needed me. I might as well have been in a labyrinth on the Moon.

I stood, gasping like a goldfish on grass. With five minutes before my meeting, my university-educated brain raced to these moronic solutions: a) find an internet cafe, b) buy a phone charger or c) lurk outside a Caff Nero sponging up their wi-fi with my iPad. In other words, flip and flap until I found the bowl again.

Suddenly those corpulent, infantilised, chair-bound incapables from Wall-E don't look so unlikely. In one generation - one - we've gone from a nation of planners and map owners to marionettes, suspended by our charlies in a cloud of data that soothes and supports.until it stops.

I think the only reason that humanity has survived so long, against odds that suggested the universe constantly wanted to kill us, is because things were so intolerable that we had to devise ingenious ways of confounding our doom. Now we've become cosy, the urge is to herd ourselves into a coup and be left to the mercy of the machines.

But some caveman initiative flickered and I starting walking in a direction I vaguely remembered, while Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan wept in the heavens.

Then, an epiphany: I turned a corner and saw a postman. It was like waking up as a castaway on some Pacific island, only to find Bear Grylls having a fag behind a tree. Not only did he know where I needed to go, but it was about 40 paces away from the spot where we stood. He gave me a look that suggested I was a complete idiot and I gave him a look that suggested I knew it. Next time someone says "you can just google it", plant a punch in their kisser. One day, the Big Digital Nipple will run dry - and that's how I feel about interactive whiteboards in schools, too.

So what did I learn? I would like to say that, in future, I won't rely on my phone so much; that technology can be an anchor as often as a sail; and that I'll prepare an analogue plan B in case the lights go out.

Sadly, this isn't a sitcom; no one has to learn anything and no one has to hug. I just thought to myself: "Christ, that was awful; next time I'll make sure I've got a full charge and a portable power source."

I hope our evolutionary successors read this, millions of years in the future, rubbing their antennae and blinking their four eyes as they think, "Ah, that's what happened to the human race."

Tom Bennett teaches at the Jo Richardson Community School in Essex and is director of the ResearchED conference

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