Monday, 30 June 2014

Information junkies

I once knew a birder who spent most of the day - almost every day - in the field. But most of that time was not spent looking through his optics. He would spend it peering at the screen of his smart phone, or responding to the bleeps and whistles that came from a small device that I assumed was a pager. These two objects (phone and pager) dictated his birding life, from where he would be birding in the next hour right through to what he would do when he got there. Also, his awareness of those other birders around him was but periphery, such was his concentration on those devices. He had divorced himself from the reality of where he was and who he was with. However, such behavior, rather than being extreme, is actually quite common.

Being able to communicate instantaneously is something that a bloke of my age does not take for granted. Who reading this can remember the run to a phone box after finding a rare bird, the frantic feeding of coins into the slot and the hope that the person who's number you had just dialed was actually in? None of this palaver has to be entered into now. Just call up the contacts on your phone, or send out a group text, or tweet, or update your Facebook status/groups. All within a minute. Reaching hundreds of contacts so that they have the information and the choice to act on your good luck if they want. Hence the need for the 'birding info junkie' to be constantly checking their feeds. Hence the constant 'bleeps and whistles' of notification alarms going off.

I spent a fortnight at Dungeness back in May, mostly in the company of other birders. Almost to a person they carried phones with which they could access the web, could tweet and could text. There were times when I looked around me and all my companions were looking at their phones as we were supposedly 'birding'. A Black Stork could have sneaked overhead and nobody would have been the wiser. It was as if all of my companions existed in their own little worlds, divorced from each other by this dependency on that small plastic gadget that they held in their hands. We have become information junkies, dependent on a constant diet of bite-sized missives, some good but a lot of it is the equivalent of junk-food. It might not clog-up our arteries, but it surely does clog up our brains...

The way we go about our birding has been improved by technology certainly, but I would argue that it has also lessened the amount of time that we actually spend watching birds.


  1. Technology diet is the solution?- need to self reg or disappear down a cyberspace blackhole. (Saw a film called Her yesterday- disturbing- bloke falls in love with his lap top and then the lap top dumps him and he's in bits) A ten pound phone from Asda is my solution for anywhere outside the office- just about makes calls and texts- for emergencies.

  2. When has all these fancy bells n' whistles ever assist anyone actually finding anything at all!! They are a hashtag anti-social, concentration-wrecking distraction.

  3. Smashed my phone into a brick wall almost two years ago. I don't miss it and have never replaced it. Lost my pager years back, I hope Dick isn't still chasing me for it! I go out with bins, a notebook, a pen (admittedly I should use a pencil but I don't), a few field guides and umpteen bits of entomological paraphenalia. Plus chocolate, hula hoops and Red Bull. Sometimes I go out with others, but usually I prefer to head out solo. No compromises that way, although I doubtless overlook/fail to ID many things others could help me with. Sometimes this backfires (like when I drive straight past a mega and only hear about it later that evening) but generally it suits me well. Weirdo that I am :)

  4. Thanks for the comments chaps - we would all seem to agree on this, although, unlike Seth, cannot allow myself to let go of new technology to such a point. Maybe one day...

  5. I also sometimes run a chicken bone through my nose, wear nothing but a coarse grass skirt and daub myself in dead beetle juices. No real reason, I just like the lack of technology...