A day of wrath for the Smartphone Zombies

David Bullard on the devilish devices that have rotted the minds of old and young alike


Dies Irae for Smartphone users

I’ve written previously about the dreaded Smartphone and how it is quite possibly the worst thing to have ever been invented. A close second goes to the Nespresso coffee machine and those ludicrously expensive ‘pods’ that you have to fit into the machine. I’m really sorry if I’m upsetting some of you this week but if you are too lazy to grind your own coffee and measure it out in a spoon and then put it into a conventional espresso making machine then you deserve your own circle in hell.

Apart from the obvious pollution that the discarded plastic pods cause this has to be the most ludicrously expensive way to drink coffee ever devised.

I have a Saeco Venezia machine which I bought when I moved house in 1992 and I have never once had it serviced. I believe Saeco was acquired by Philips back in 2009. My machine gurgles a bit and sounds asthmatic on occasions but it still produces a fine espresso after all these years with a layer of crema strong enough to hold a spoonful of brown sugar for almost 30 seconds.

The whole point of making a good cup of coffee is the ritual it entails. First select really good deep roast coffee beans, then lovingly grind them to the right consistency allowing the smell of freshly ground coffee to waft around the house. Spoon them gently into the portafilter and remember to tamp down the mixture vigorously. I read this once in a book by the food writing legend Jeffrey Steingarten and it changed my coffee making life. I immediately went out to my local coffee shop and bought a tamper and now I wouldn’t dream of making a cup of decent coffee, espresso or cappuccino, without first putting my entire body weight on the ground coffee in the portafilter. Even my Italian friends commend me on the effort I put into making a really good cup of coffee. The satisfaction is all in the foreplay. Slipping a coffee pod in the Nespresso machine is the caffeine hit equivalent of having a quickie behind the bicycle sheds in the days when you knew no better. Sorry George Clooney.

But back to the awful Smartphone. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___ At the risk of sounding even more like a curmudgeon I went to a very fine performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Endler Auditorium last saturday. It was conducted by Prof Johan de Villiers who directed the splendid Oude Libertas choir from its inception in 1988 until its farewell concert in 2022. Although the choir has disbanded many of the former members made up the ninety five voices that performed in the Verdi Requiem.

The Endler Auditorium at Stellenbosch University has hosted some magnificent concerts over the ten years I have lived in the Western Cape. It is a relic of apartheid I’m happy to say when the Nats weren’t afraid to build the finest state of the art buildings for their voters. I am trying hard to think of an ANC equivalent.

So the acoustics are good, the seats are very comfortable and generously spaced and a large pipe organ sits behind the stage for the more ambitious choral works. The wonderful thing is that the performers are multi racial and this doesn’t seem to cause any distress among the members of the choir and orchestra, despite what our mainstream media may lead us to believe about the soft underbelly of structural racism in the DA-run Western Cape.

Three of the professional soloists, Hlengiwe Mzkwanazi, Luvo Maranti and Conroy Scott are what the egg shell steppers of this world would call ‘people of colour’ and their voices were magnificent as was the voice of the alto, Minette du Toit-Pearce. None of them seemed remotely concerned about the demographics of either the performers or the audience.

The audience was almost exclusively white and not particularly youthful. Which is why it was a huge shock for me to see so many Smartphones held aloft once the quiet opening bars of the Verdi Requiem began. Lots of grey headed people holding their phones up to video part of a performance that we had all paid good money to enjoy. I don’t know about you but my tolerance levels have dropped significantly as I have become older. Fortunately the eight seats in front of me were empty but if someone in those seats had held a Smartphone up I would have snatched it from them, scrunched it under my heel and faced the consequences after the appropriately named Libera me.

How stupid and inconsiderate do you have to be to wave something with a brightly lit screen in a darkened auditorium during a live performance of a work as sublime as the Verdi Requiem? Presumably these were the same cretins who insisted on clapping after the ‘songs’ rather than waiting for the work to finish. Maestro de Villiers did hold his hands up to deter the intercourse applauders but they only really got the message after the Sanctus.

In my fury I was trying to fathom what makes an audience member of advanced years attending a classical performance want to video the concert. Is it because they don’t think that anyone will believe that they have sat through 90 minutes of Verdi without being able to offer evidence? Or is this some foul affliction that they have caught from their children and grand-children?

But the curse of the Smartphone goes way beyond the concert hall. If you watch footage of some of the Pro-Palestine marches held over the past few weeks you cannot help but be struck by the number of people attempting to photograph or film some of the more violent confrontations on their phones, presumably so they can monetise it through the horribly named Chinese owned Tik Tok.

If somebody is mugged or attacked these days the first response is not to rush and help. It is to whip out your Smartphone and try to get a decent shot of the injuries. How the Chinese owners of Tik Tok must be loving watching ‘Western’ society tearing itself apart.

But it’s not only at potentially violent events or concerts that the Smartphone reigns supreme. Go to an upmarket restaurant and the chances are that your fellow diners are not discussing the disastrous effect that the ANC has had on the country but are staring vacantly at a phone screen checking their messages or WhatsApps. I know of someone who was so averse to what were, back then, only known as ‘mobile phones’ that he would call a premature halt to a dinner party at his home should anybody use one. He would announce that the evening is over if a mobile phone rang and would ask people to leave. I thought it a bit extreme at the time but I would support that 100% now.

On my visits to the local shopping mall everybody is staring vacantly at a Smartphone screen, whether it be my favourite parking attendant or the bored staff at empty shops. Even the indigents waiting for a handout at the robots are busy staring at Smartphone screens, albeit cracked ones.

I once commented that if the government demanded that all citizens have a microchip implanted in their bodies so that the state could track their movements there would be a general outcry. No need for that with the ubiquitous and snooping Smartphone because your every movement, every transaction and every desire is tracked thanks to algorithms.

Kids as young as ten now want the latest Smartphone for fear they will be mocked by fellow pupils if they don’t carry an updated model with enough capacity for computer games. Bullying in girl’s schools has taken on a whole new dimension now that an unfashionably dressed young girl can be filmed by her classmates and put on social media with the comment “Ugly Sharon still dresses like her grannie”. No wonder that suicide and mental health problems among teenagers are on the rise.

To meet a partner these days you don’t join a club or pursue an activity that might enable you to meet someone with a common interest. You go on a dating site and swipe left or right. How awful and how desperate. I met my wife while learning to fly at Lanseria and since she sounded so sexy over the radio I asked permission to land, shortened my final approach and taxied up next to Juliet Delta Charlie to check out the goods. Thirty eight years later, no complaints.

Mary Wakefield wrote in The Spectator a few weeks ago:

“My young cousins get their news from Snapchat, mixed in with a run of stories from their friends: dead Palestinians; a new make-up drop from Kylie Jenner; can you keep your snapstreak? The moguls who own these platforms use words from the service industry as if every user is a valued customer: the news feed is ‘curated’, ads are ‘served’, the experience ‘personalised’. But the oily language is a lie. Who requests this satanic mix? All I can say for sure is that it serves the Zuckerbergs well.”

The problem with getting your news from social media via a Smartphone is that you become an unquestioning recipient of propaganda since any cerebral activity has been abandoned long ago. Just what the politicians with looming elections love. But hang on to that Smartphone because you will probably want to video the rioting in the streets before too long and post it on Tik Tok. For money, obviously.