Hand-held device

In the Guardian we read, or at least I read, a long business story on the triumph of sandwich merchandising in England. It is what people eat there now, for breakfast and lunch and at other times. They don’t make the sandwiches themselves. They are made in long conveyor-belt factories, staffed with immigrant cheap labour; soon to be mechanized. You can buy these sandwiches for up to ten quid apiece, and the beauty is that you can eat them without noticing, while your other hand taps away.

In my London days it was beans-egg-spam-and-toast, but for that you had to sit down. Too, I doubt that (what was it?) eighty billion plates were served per year in England, even counting Wales. The “ham sandwich” was universally known, but you didn’t order it from a “cafe” (one syllable) because you could make it yourself in less than twenty seconds (twenty-five while talking). To buy a roll of stuffed bread from a street vendor, you had to walk to, say, Tehran.

The numbers have washed out of my brain already — I do not read such articles twice — but my sense of the magnitude of the enterprise remains. Those who have made googlish fortunes, peddling sandwiches to the Britannic masses, compliment themselves on having perceived a trend in Western Civ. Our eating practices have “evolved.” We don’t have meals any more. We still want food, but take it “on the run.” Even hamburgers have come to seem too fussy. Somewhere — possibly also in the Guardian — I read that by the age of fourteen, at least half of British residents are, by some medical definition, “obese.” Like the opioid crisis, this makes perfect sense. Few actually want to die; but few want to live, either. Their habits suggest a target somewhere between.

They still eat, and they are happy to do surveys. I gather from other journalistic revelations that “the Millennials” and the “iGens” (that’s the generation after) have rejected “institutional religion.” This was no surprise — it was already rejected in the Spirit of Vatican II — but in addition the young no longer describe themselves as “spiritual,” either. “Heaven” interests them less than foie gras, which can at least be put in a sandwich. We needn’t go into their moral ideas, which though sometimes strident, are perfectly externalized. While they have rejected family life, too, they’d rather stay indoors. They are uncomfortable with direct human contact, to the point of preferring not only shrinkwrap to menus, but pornography to sex.

Sandwich in one hand; iPhone in the other.

Well, none of this will come as news to any reader. It is “the way we live now,” and the trends are towards a kind of high-tech, pure animal existence. One thinks of wombats with their distinctive cubic faeces. And their indifference to any sort of fence or boundary. Moreover, in my (admittedly rather limited) experience, nothing beats a wombat for self-esteem.

My guess is that these children are essentially unhappy; but I am thinking in categories that may be out-of-date. Plus, my bias is showing towards the higher primates.