December 6, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

More and more we worry about the shape of our lips or the health of our poo as the darker side of technology plays on our fears ...

“Mum reveals clever £5 wrinkle trick that is making Botox Doctors furious!” This message, along with two mug shots (haggard mum, nubile mum), leapt out of an online dictionary. Later, I was listening to a You Tube mix when, straight out of the cyber blue, a clipped voice began: “The best way to overcome chemo…” I got back to deleting emails because someone out there thinks I need Viagra – and to transform my penis into a Neanderthal’s club. I emailed back assuring them that I didn’t need (couldn’t afford) their wares.

That evening, at Kilburn station I noticed a poster: a stickman showing how feasibly you could slip under an oncoming train. This was sandwiched between two photographs of “dead” children. Their glazed eyes locked into mine. Never look at your phone when crossing the road. On the train I read that playing the trumpet could give you a stroke. And that Andrew Marr blamed a rowing machine for his.

As I alighted, an elderly man pointed at me from the safety of an NHS billboard. “Hey you. Looking at this poster remember to check your poo.” OK, thanks. Now? And check your grammar.

Ceaselessly, we get bombarded with messages of risk. Technology is used to boost the assault. It has created a soil pipe through which alarmist flux can pass. Life has its gristly underbelly, we all know that. For every good there’s a bad, life’s a sort of yin-yang dualism. But we are repeatedly made aware of the bad, the shadow, the yang. And learn little about the light.

Consider Japanese loos. Researchers in Japan have created a toilet sensor that measures the user’s blood pressure and sugar levels and even chemicals that indicate cancer risk. The data is automatically sent to the local GP. This is incredible, but unnerving. The toilet is a point of refuge, a plop-plopping hiatus from the external pressures of life. I don’t want to keep craning round to see if there’s some beacon flashing its death signal.

I am not advocating a world devoid of medical and safety advice. Of course it’s in our best interest not to smoke or do acrobatics on the escalator at Waterloo. But it’s becoming a plague. Technology is running rampantly ahead. Some of us cannot adjust in time. Anxiety channels have opened that we don’t know how to shut. I mean, take this sugared espresso steaming before me. It’s no mild pick-me-up. It’s a cornucopia of ills: missed heart beats and migraines, diabetes and farts.

Do these negative thoughts build up in the subconscious? Could they bubble up in paranoiac urges? Probably not. A study from University College London has shown that the brain is better at processing positive news than negative. Apparently some of us – particularly the 14 people involved in the study – simply shun negative thoughts.

But reminders that we will all perish are certainly not conducive to buoyant spirits or fun.


IMAGE: BrainWashers