Carla Carlisle on the age of communication

ON the left side of my email screen is the directory of mailboxes: Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Trash, Junk and Apple Hot News. I only click on the last one to delete the accumulated messages and feel the easy virtue of housekeeping. I barely glance at the subjects, but, tonight, two caught my eye. One revealed that it costs just $1.36 a year to charge an iPad, suggesting that if we would turn off our plasma-screen televisions and embrace our iPads, polar bears would no longer be stranded on ice islands, the West would no longer be in hock to the Middle East, coalminers could hang up their helmets and go work in Tesco, and world peace would soon follow. I deleted it.

The second piece of Hot News was Apple’s financial results for the third quarter that ended June 30, 2012. The company posted quarterly revenues of $35 billion and a quarterly net profit of $8.8 billion, sales that, in a three-month period, included 26 million iPhones and 17 million iPads.
What those figures mean in the real world is beyond my powers of speculation. I own an Apple desktop and an Apple laptop, but no shares in the company (in case you do, the quarterly cash dividend was $2.65 per common share, which won’t get you a cappuccino anywhere in the temperate zone).

Still, I’ve always liked being an Apple person, in the same way that I like driving a Volvo, listening to Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach cello suites, going to Even song, living with Radio 3 and 4. In fact, Roberts radios and Apple computers have transformed the country life I knew as a child. Now, there’s nowhere left under the satellite sky where the news of the world can’t be received 24 hours a day.

Just think: 26 million iPhones sold in three months. More than 100 million in a year. More than 500 million in five years. Instant communication that both shrinks the world and makes it more vulnerable. When imbeciles make an anti-Muslim film, it spreads around the world faster than the speed of sound. Nature’s ancient fire breaks-time and distance -no longer exist. A mysterious and crudely made film appears on YouTube and ignites a conflagration that spreads across the Middle East and in countries as far-flung as Sri Lanka, Nigeria and the Maldives. Welcome to a world in which millions of young, unemployed, alienated and radicalised young men possess two things: a strong religious identity and a mobile phone.

Recommended videos for you

Of course, YouTube, Twitter and iPhones didn’t cause the wave of violent demonstrations across the Muslim world. Even the film painting a grotesque caricature of the Prophet Mohammed wasn’t the cause. It’s America’s long history of support for Israeli governments and Arab despots and invasions of Muslim countries. America and her best friend, Britain, have been slow to admit that whatever happens today in Gaza or Afghanistan is likely to have repercussions tomorrow in London or New York. Mobile phones and text messages galvanise the young men in such numbers because the grievances are deep and because the states they live in have lost their power to govern.

Three-quarters of the people in the world-more than five billion have mobile phones. During the Arab Spring, we believed that cyberspace, with its Tweets and blogs, would usher in a new age of democracy. The past couple of grief-stricken weeks have sobered us up.

So what can stop the violence, the deep loathing of the West across the Muslim world? In the short term, probably nothing, but a start would be to stop showing the film on the internet. And long term? Bring the troops home. Invest in a low-energy iPadded future where political decisions aren’t based on oil. At least, that’s how it looks here on the plains of Suffolk, where broadcast towers and phone masts have replaced church towers as the visible beacons of our age.

* Subscribe to Country Life and get our Ipad edition for free: