I can't imagine anything more useless than checking whether iphone users consider themselves happy at any given moment. Apart from the obvious jokes , the idea that the self-reported 'happiness level' of self-selected iphone users can tell you anything about human happiness in general seems dubious. There is potential for happiness in lots of things, and lots of different types of happiness, garnered from different types of human experience; and happiness can linger or be transitory. Well, I won't go on about it; but it seems a petty and reductive exercise to me - you'd be better off reading a novel or poem; or - dare I say it - just talking to a few people. You would probably learn a lot more.
What connected the two articles in my mind was the modus operandi of the LSE survey ... "We beep you once (or more) a day to ask how you're feeling". (Of course, they don't want to ask you about how you're feeling, that would involve talking to you - they just want a simplified measure of your well-being which can be converted into a binary format, tagged with a geo-location, and stored in a database - ah, isn't social science cuddly?).
What struck me is how we're coming to accept such digital intrusion as normal. The idea that such a beep might itself be a horrible intrusion on our happiness is not considered.
Now, I love the internet; and I'm even enjoying twitter (which, used constructively, is a marvellous way of finding information and connecting with people) but does no-one cherish their privacy any more? The answer, increasingly, is no; we are moving into a culture where digital exhibitionism and (fairly bogus) 'interactivity' in one form or another, is the norm. This blog, of course, is one symptom of that; and I don't have dogmatic opinions on whether it will end well or badly.
However, if this blog has a point, it is to show you contrasts and connections between past and present. So here's a fantasy from Punch (1858) based on the dreadful idea of an interactive, 24/7, digital culture. The medium considered is the telegraph ('The Victorian Internet') but the principle is the same:
THE HOUSE TELEGRAPH
Ridiculous piece of fantasy, of course. It could never happen.
A Telegraph all over London? The wires brought to within 100 yards of every man's door? A Company established to carry it out?
Well - I don't know. There's a good deal to be said on both side.
It certainly would be pleasant to be within five minutes of such a message as "Dine at the Club with me at seven;" or "SQUATTLEBOROUGH JUNCTIONS" at six premium; I've sold your hundred, and paid in the cash to your account;" or "Little stranger arrived safe this morning at twelve; mamma and baby doing well;" and one might occasionally be grateful for such a warning as "KITE and POUNCE took out a writ against you this morning - Look alive;" or "JAWKINS coming to call on you; make yourself scarce."
But think on the other hand of being within five minutes of every noodle who wants to ask you a question, of every dun with a "little account;" of every acquaintance who has a favour to beg, or a disagreeable thing to communicate. With the post one secures at least the three or four hours betwixt writing the letter and its delivery. When I leave my suburban retreat at Brompton, at nine A.M., for the City, I am insured against MRS. P.'s anxieties, and tribulations, and consultings, on the subject of our little family, or our little bills, the servants' shortcomings, or the tradesmen's delinquencies, at least till my return to dinner. But with a House Telegraph, it would be a perpetual tete-a-tete. We should be always in company, as it were, with all our acquaintance. Good gracious, we should go far to outvie SIR BOYLE ROCHE's famous bird, and be not in two places only, but in every place within the whole range of the House-Telegraph at once. Solitude would become impossible. The bliss of ignorance would be at an end. We should come near that most miserable of all conceivable conditions, of being able to oversee and overhear all that is being done or said concerning us all over London! Every bore's finger would be always on one's button; every intruder's hand on one's knocker; every good-natured friend's lips in one's ear.
No - all things considered, I don't think society is quite ripe for the House-Telegraph yet. If it is established I shall put up a plate on my door with "No House-Telegrams need apply."