We have a new sensory organ. By illustration let me take you to a world cup cricket match between India and Australia (which India, as it happens, won. And yet they say there is no justice on this earth.)
Indians love cricket and their reverence for their best cricketers is tantamount to religious awe. MS Dhoni is one of those best cricketers and they view him as something of a godhead.
(Of course the Indians are not alone in this. Some years ago I witnessed a grown man getting the autograph of an All Blacks captain at a dinner. The captain was courteous and spoke a few words. The man said none back. He couldn't. He had been struck dumb. Such is the power of belief and love and a sense of majesty, bestowed wherever. It's the religious gene unique to homo sapiens that's proved disastrous throughout our history. But that is by the by.)
Dhoni had just been dismissed. It was towards the end of the innings and he'd scored some quick runs so the sense of tragedy was to some degree muted. Dhoni's route back to the dressing room took him to a set of steps.
On one side of the steps was the members' stand whose occupants were older, richer, whiter and more restrained than the rest of the crowd. On the other side was the rest of the crowd. Security guards in boots and fluorescent jackets ensured that none of them got too close to Dhoni's divinity.
As Dhoni crossed the boundary and approached the steps, there came into view on television a phalanx of young Indian men. And the word phalanx is deliberately chosen because every one of them was thrusting something out in front of him. But that something was not a pike or shield. Nor was it an autograph book or a votive offering. It was a mobile phone.
(It is time for a new name for the mobile phone. Phoning is now among the least of its uses. Deviciversal? Electronicrutch? Digitiquity? The word will be found eventually. Language meets all needs.)
The young men holding the phones were within a few feet of their hero, the godhead, the one they worshipped. But they were not looking at him. They were looking at the screens on their phones on which there was an image of him. As he went up the steps they swung their phones after him in synchrony without ever once looking up. It was the oddest thing to watch. They were renouncing what was clearly significant for them now in favour of having a record of it for tomorrow.
Of course they can now prove to anyone who doubts them that they came within a few feet of the great Dhoni. But they cannot claim to have seen him at close quarters, any more than I can from 19,000km away. Between them and reality, as between me and reality, stood an electronic screen.
This distancing is not unique to cricket. In any street confrontation, any protest, there may be two people scuffling on the ground or biffing rocks or kicking tear-gas canisters, but they're outnumbered 10 to one by the people running to surround them with a phone held out in front of them, their medium of witness. For the thing that isn't recorded didn't happen.
At rock concerts, I am told, the crowd is no longer a sea of waving arms but a sea of recording phones, all held aloft like periscopes, desperate to get the splendid view their owner hasn't got. So it can then become memory.
Of course there have always been things between us and events that happen beyond us. Those things are our sensory organs: eyes, ears, nose, the nerve ends on our skin or the taste buds on our tongue. Without them we would know nothing. We would live in the lightless, odourless, touchless silence of self. We would have no reason to believe the world existed.
Those sensory organs evolved over millions of years. And they did so in tandem with a brain. The brain judges and selects from what the senses provide. The phone does not. The brain edits and compresses a decade into a few poignant moments. The phone does not. It records 10 years as 10 years.
The phone may have entranced millions but it's a harmless mechanical device. It cannot think for itself. It can only ever be programmed. The only danger is that one day we come to believe in it. If that day comes, if we ever think a phone can think, we'll have surrendered a sensory organ to those who programme it. And that, I'm afraid, will be that.