It has been suggested that the universe is a practical joke by the general at the expense of the particular. How funny we find the joke depends a lot on personal circumstances and just how twisted our sense of humour happens to be. Personally, I find news stories like the one about a man wearing electric underpants to fake a heart attack funny. I also find headlines like “I stabbed him in the head and now we’re getting married” funny too. I don’t find ignorance and intolerance funny, so for the most part, I don’t find religion particularly amusing.

Like it or not, the essential problem with religion is that it’s always a matter of sacrifice. And where there’s a sacrifice, there’s a victim, as well as some person or entity profiting from that sacrifice. Sure, faith and belief can be a nice distraction, and we all like to think we occasionally achieve a moral victory, but the evidence seems to suggest that it’s the immoral brutes who win the real victories – often using the same rhetoric. That’s before we even begin to truly examine the nature and relativity of morality and the rather messy can of worms that such an examination will inevitably open up.

Another practical joke by the general at the expense of the particular seems to be the distractions created by constant and pervasive email, text and voice messages. A recent study concluded that doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus has reached startling levels. Test subjects demonstrated that emails, in particular, have an addictive, drug-like effect. Out of 80 clinical trials conducted by a psychiatrist from Kings College, London, the average IQ loss for subjects tested was measured at more than double the mean fall found in studies of cannabis users. Apparently, subjects’ minds were all over the place when they faced new questions and challenges every time they got a text message or an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work fell considerably and the overall effect on subjects trying to deal with this digital noise was the equivalent, over a normal day, to losing a whole night’s sleep. So, our compulsion to reply to each new text or email eventually tires and slows down our brain. The really twisted bit is that most of the participants in the study felt that while it might be rude to answer texts or messages during face-to-face meetings, such practice was acceptable and was seen as a sign of ‘diligence and efficiency’.

As someone who’s always had a problem with diligence and efficiency, I’m crap at answering emails and text messages. Sure, there’s a modicum of good intention somewhere in the mix, but I’m probably one of the very few these days who doesn’t leave my mobile on all the time or bother taking it every time I go out. I’m also not embarrassed by my phone and usually just accept whatever upgrade my provider offers, whenever they decide to offer it. But if you happen to be one of these fashion-conscious, gimmick-driven phone freaks, you’re in for a real treat. According to the Apple rumour-mill, Motorola will shortly be releasing a mobile phone running iTunes software.

If you have a look on the Web, you can find a photo of the pearly white E790 that, reportedly, synchronizes with iTunes 4.9 and has the same autofill menu options as the iPod shuffle. Although there’s not much detail on how much internal memory the phone has, the sample described ships with a 128MB TransFlash card that sits opposite the SIM and under the battery and supposedly sounds every bit as good as a full-size iPod, with “excellent bass response”. The rumour-mongers are covering themselves by saying that it might just be an engineering or production sample, and they can’t guarantee whether this will actually be the first iTunes phone or not. However, elsewhere in the news, Cellcom, Israel, has reportedly announced that they will be selling the Motorola iTunes phone later this year and has posted the same photo.

So, among the various non-sinister things you will soon be able do with your mobile – instead of just being distracted by phone calls, text messages, tacky ring tones and crap games – you will also have the exciting option of being distracted by music downloads, impulsive shopping and playlist manipulation. Whether these activities will slow your brain down even further or increase doziness, lethargy and the inability to focus remains to be seen. But, hey, someone will probably fund a survey to find out any day now. While you’re waiting for that one to come along, don’t forget the previous warnings about listening to your iPod, or iPod phone, at too high a volume. You don’t want to be deaf as well if you’re already turning your brain into a fried breakfast.

It’s been said that we should never underestimate absurdity because it is one of the doors to the imagination. But sometimes I wonder just how much absurdity is necessary to unlock real imagination. Timothy Leary once said that people have to go out of their minds before they can come to their senses. But I don’t think he was thinking of the after-effects of email and mobile-phone addiction.

Despite all the news and disinformation, the practical jokes by the general at the expense of the particular will just keep coming. The only thing we need to remember is that it’s not true unless it makes you laugh and that you don’t understand until it makes you weep. Life may be an illusion, but it’s an illusion we do occasionally need to take seriously. Reality, in whatever guise, may be retroactive, retrospective and illusory, but uncertainty is definitely the name of the game. And creative energy is always triangular, not cubical, or even moderately phone-shaped. Don’t worry, the light is out there. We just tend to look in all the wrong places first. Omnia quia sunt, lumina sunt (all things that are, are light). MW