Why I’m fighting to ban smartphones for children

I am not often lost for words, but the five middle-aged homeless men who spoke at the Big Issue celebration in the House of Lords last month left me truly awestruck. All five had endured lives of childhood abandonment, violence, pain, destitution. All five had emerged from the darkness philosophical, hopeful and loving of their fellow man. I have not stopped thinking about them, and when I start on my usual daily beefs – signs on the Tube telling me I mustn’t give money to beggars (why not if I want to?); signs on the Tube telling me I can’t stare at people (what if someone is listening to a deafening

Why Britain stopped working

50 min listen

Welcome to a slightly new format for the Edition podcast! Each week we will be talking about the magazine – as per usual – but trying to give a little more insight into the process behind putting The Spectator bed each week. On the podcast this week: the cost of Britain’s mass worklessness. According to The Spectator’s calculations, had workforce participation stayed at the same rate as in 2019, the economy would be 1.7 per cent larger now and an end-of-year recession could have been avoided. As things stand, joblessness is coexisting with job vacancies in a way that should be economically impossible, writes Kate Andrews in the cover story. She joins the

How to shock a Satanist

I wish I could be like actors and pretend to be bored by press junkets, but the truth is I love the attention. My job as a Hollywood writer and producer mainly involves sitting in front of a computer and shouting at my kids, so free drinks, launch parties and people telling you how great you are is the perfect antidote to a room filled with empty Monster Munch packets and that urine sample you were meant to hand in to the doctor. Writers are such terrible narcissists. We not only expect complete strangers to be fascinated by our every thought; we want them to pay for the privilege. You

In praise of smartphones

The online PE teacher Joe Wicks has announced, in a fit of self-reproach coinciding with the launch of his new television programme, that he considers himself addicted to his smartphone. He says he forced himself to take a whole five days off social media in order to be more ‘present’ for his children, and that doing so ‘opened my eyes to just how much I struggle with it on a daily basis’. ‘I justify the use of my phone for work,’ he said in a post on Instagram (I won’t labour the irony, but he really did deliver this revelation in a post on Instagram), ‘but in reality I’m probably

Why I hate WhatsApp

‘My phone says I can’t go out until Tuesday, so I can’t come and meet you,’ said my friend. And she repeated this down the line several times, as I insisted I did not understand. I had nipped outside the hairdresser with my hair in highlighter foils to take her call and was standing on the street, phone tucked under the silver-paper flaps, a stiff wind blowing. I assumed she must be saying something else and I had misheard. ‘It’s the app on my phone,’ she explained. ‘I’ve counted the days myself and I should be able to go out today, but my phone says I have to stay in

High life | 25 April 2019

David Niven’s younger son Jamie, now an old man and a bit overweight, approached my table and announced that he had seen a video of me lunching elsewhere with two friends. He said this in front of the two ladies I was with, one of whom has in the past had issues with my behaviour — namely, the wife. Luckily the video showed me with the designer Carolina Herrera and her husband, who are social friends, so after a pregnant pause Jamie Niven said goodbye and left. It was the end of the story and for once I was doing something innocent, like having lunch. Thinking back, however, I am

I admit it – I’m a smartphone addict

I am often extremely dismissive of people immersed in their smartphones. I tut at the mole-ish pedestrians who step out into the traffic, faces uplit and shocked when a car goes by. Last week, in a toddler playgroup, I actually hissed at some poor father. We were in the middle of ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, with actions, when he got stuck in an iPhone trance. There he stood amid the marching midgets swiping from text messages to email to Twitter and back again. It was when he tapped on the bus times app that I snapped. Well, what a hypocrite I am. And how is it that I’ve

Barometer | 14 September 2017

Selfie-worth The animal rights charity Peta dropped a case claiming that a macaque which took its own photo was entitled to the royalties, rather than the camera owner (but only after the photographer agreed to donate a quarter of the royalties to animal charities). — The idea of animal property rights was advanced by Australian philosopher John Hadley in the Journal of Social Philosophy in 2005. He suggested animals be granted rights over territories and human guardians appointed to represent them in court. — There are issues still to be reconciled, however: what of non-territorial animals, and those which dispute each other’s territories? Would cats be expected to resolve differences

Heads in the cloud

The Spectator podcast: Listen to Isabel Hardman, Lara Prendergast, Charlotte Jee, Editor of Techworld, and Professor Martin Conway, head of psychology at City University discuss the memory gap. Ask me what I had for lunch yesterday and I couldn’t tell you. Names disappear as swiftly as smoke. Birthdays, capital cities, phone numbers — the types of facts that used to come so readily — are no longer forthcoming. I’m 26, yet I feel I have the memory of a 70-year-old. My brain is a port through which details pass, but don’t stay. I’m not alone. Many young people feel our memories have been shot to pieces. It’s the embarrassing secret of my

The power of painless payment

I am one of those annoying, mildly claustrophobic people who sit at the end of a row in cinemas. There are plenty of things in life — films, plays, social events — which I can only fully enjoy knowing I can make a sharp exit at any time. It’s not that I leave: I just like to know I can. My idea of hell is a party on a boat. So I am rather enamoured with the new mobile-phone app Qkr, which lets you pay with your phone in some restaurants without waiting for the bill. It’s the honest man’s version of ‘doing a runner’. You check in on your

Telling tales | 31 December 2015

Medea says ‘hiiiiiiii’ on the first page of Mallory Ortberg’s hilarious book, which puts smartphones in the hands of literary heroes, heroines and their writers; ‘it’s Glauce right??’, Medea continues, squealing ‘when is the WEDDING/ I hope you guys have the Argonauts as groomsmen/ and they do the sword thing/ you know where they make the little roof with their swords/ and you run down underneath it’. From this startling opening, Ortberg romps through the canon. Hamlet has teenage tantrums about the sandwiches his mother brings up on a tray. Keats gushes about ‘THIS URN’ and Mrs Danvers upbraids Rebecca for bringing in ‘BAGGED tea?/ this is a stately home/

The new rules of dating

An American stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari, who usually performs in Los Angeles and New York, has found time to conduct an international investigation of the mating habits of the young in the digital age. Like most other stand-up comedians, male and female, Ansari evidently bases his act on nationalistic, ethnic and sexual misanthropy, expressed with facetious cynicism. The first words of his introduction are ‘OH, SHIT!’, which seem to promise streetwise modernity but nothing romantic. Is the book only some kind of wise-guy scam? No, it’s not that simple. Born 32 years ago in Bennettsville, a small town in South Carolina, Ansari apparently felt restricted by what he calls his

I second that emoji

On the way home from dinner with girlfriends I composed my usual thank-you text. Smashing company, delicious food, must see you all again. A couple of kisses. Feeling this wasn’t enough, I added a line of coloured pictures: an ice cream in a cone, a slice of cake with a strawberry on top, a bar of chocolate, a cup of steaming coffee — near enough representations of the puddings we had shared. The replies came back: smiley faces, rows of hearts, bowls of spaghetti (it had been an Italian), martini glasses. My friends and I are in our late twenties and early thirties, yet we communicate using emoji: the sort

What happened to Julie Burchill on silent retreat

When I told my friends that I was planning to attend a silent retreat, they all laughed. It’s true that I am something of a convivialist; my idea of heaven is a big table in a warm restaurant, the table shimmering with the laughter of friends and the glugging of wine, and me picking up the bill. On the other hand, I was a solitary only child and I look back on those days with great fondness. Before the long stagger up the primrose path of pleasure started, the only companion I needed was a book; I well remember my mother crying because I preferred to sit in my room

Letters: Charles Saatchi’s challenge to Taki, and the battle over Benefits Street

On Benefits Street Sir: Fraser Nelson asserts that people in charities do not want to talk about what life is like on poverty (‘Britain’s dirty secret’, 18 January). To those of us who have experienced poverty or supported others stuck in it, there is no secret. We didn’t need a sensationalist pseudo-documentary to know that life with no money is grinding, miserable and soul-destroying. However, few answers to the problems of the poor are offered by low-paid workforces combined with flawed markets deciding the value of essential goods and services. The real means to help people out of this poverty trap would be to reduce rents, utilities and childcare costs

How James Goldsmith’s wisdom on mistresses could revolutionise mobile phones

I wouldn’t worry much about the future of the British economy. Because I have a simple plan to make the UK the world’s leading exporter of mobile phones. They will be manufactured by a new consortium including Alfred Dunhill, Cordings and Bowers & Wilkins. The idea came to me when I was watching coverage of the new scandal in France, where a government security officer was photographed at 8 a.m. delivering a bag of croissants to Hollande’s love nest. My first reaction was disgust — I mean, how bad must things be in a country when even the president can’t get a cooked breakfast? But his behaviour also made me

You’re never really on holiday with a smartphone

I was sitting on some rocks by the Cornish coast when a teenager swanned by on the sun-warmed boardwalk in front of me. The boy stood on the burning deck, preparing to dash across the sand, dive. Then his phone rang. ‘Luce! Yes, I’m at the sea… Was just going to plunge… Ran back to my mobile… Ha ha!… No, didn’t forget, will share that file on Google Docs… How’s France?… Awesome… Ha ha!’ Rage washed over me. I was angry because the boy had broken the sound of the waves with his silly ringtone and sillier chatter. I was angry because he had spoiled my own picturesque vision of