Comedian, actor and writer David Mitchell reflects on the overwhelming power of technology, global warming and the fate of our planet, and why he would hate to be Prime Minister for the day
Technology is changing the way we interact. It’s sort of bizarre, the way it makes people both more communicative but even less communicative at the same time. There’s the fact that we just don’t know how it’s going to develop. On the one hand we see experiences on Twitter of tremendous community, and in other instances we have cases of people trading terrible abuse. Should we be restricting the type of messages people can send, or is it deeply ill-liberal to stop freedom of speech in that way? There’s a baffling range of questions this presents. Amazing technology has developed but here, immediately, are all these questions and downsides.
Obviously there’s also the issue of is the planet going to remain habitable? Are we eventually drifting toward a day where the seas are going to rise and we won’t have East Anglia anymore? And as a person on your own, how much does thinking about this help?
Which in itself leads us onto the political situation. I don’t know if people have ever been quite as desultory in their views of politicians. I don’t think we think our politicians are terrible people, but I do think we think they’re sort of inadequate people who aren’t really up to the challenges of their job. But at the same time we’re a democracy: is that our fault? How did we manage to elect these people we despise? We could have voted for other people, you know.
If I were to be Prime Minister for a day? Well, before I say anything, I’d say I just wouldn’t want that at all! I absolutely want to be on the sidelines, rather than making the decisions – one of the reasons that I voted Liberal Democrat the last elections is because I thought the last thing that will happen is I’ll be implicated in what the government does, so that was a nightmare! Their USP should be, ‘it doesn’t matter, vote for us and know that whatever happens it’s despite rather than because of what you did at the elections’, so them being part of the government is a massive kick in their teeth.
I’d love to visit almost every time period for a quick 20 minutes (and then I’d have an antibiotic jab). I’d love to go back to the Middle Ages, but you know, you mustn’t drink the water! But for all the things that are worrying and frightening now, this isn’t a terrible time to be alive. And one of the worrying things about it is we might be the eve of a terrible time to be alive.
In terms of being healthy and having reasonable access to enjoyable things and opportunities and that sort of thing I would say I would like to have not been born in 1974, but maybe to have been born in 1946, so I’d still be alive now, about my parents’ generation. It looked like an absolute disaster when they were born after the war, the world was heading inevitably toward nuclear destruction, but actually it’s worked out to be really quite a good era to be alive – if you were born in Britain or America.
Interview by Camilla Davies
Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse, by David Mitchell, is out 6 November, published by Guardian Faber