Friday thought #63 The demise of human interaction

I’ve written about this before, but it is something that continues to bother me every day. Yes mobile phones have their place, they are incredibly useful and a wonderful modern invention, but what irritates me is that now wherever you go you are literally surrounded by people on their mobile phones. On a train or a bus, standing outside a shop, walking down the street, even whilst riding a bike. Have we really come to the point where we cannot physically function for more than 5 minutes without looking at a screen? What happened to reading a book, reading the newspaper, talking to each other, or simply looking out the window and enjoying the view? I recently took a long train journey from Innsbruck to Geneva and absolutely loved the peace and tranquility of just sitting and relaxing without having to concentrate, and more importantly without having to drive! No distractions, no internet, just the chance to read, write and chat. Lovely.

I teach a few lessons a week in a secondary school and was absolutely horrified during my first few lessons to look up and see students playing with their phones in the middle of lessons. Who on earth does a teenager sitting in a lesson need to contact? And why? Without even touching on how incredibly rude and disrespectful it is to the teacher. Whilst at school pupils do not need a phone, indeed I managed all the way through my schooling life without one. If a young child is walking home from school on their own and the parent wants them to have a phone to contact them en route, fine, hand it in to the teacher at the start of the day and take it back at the end. That’s what happened in the school I previously taught in and it worked just fine. It terrifies me that today’s youth are growing up in a world where mobile phones are not just convenient and useful, they are an everyday essential, just as food and water are. Children as young as 8 or 9 now walk around with smart phones, and teenagers can’t cope without one glued to their hand at all times.

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I saw on the news recently that a chef in Leamington Spa had controversially taken the decision to ban mobile phones completely from his restaurant. In his words; “It’s rude. If you’re coming out to eat it’s about conversation and breaking bread.” Unsurprisingly there has been plenty of backlash but good on him for standing up for his principles, and personally I couldn’t agree more. I continue to be appalled looking around a restaurant, cafe or bar and seeing both couples and groups of people, not talking, not socialising, not laughing and catching up with friends, but staring at their own phones in silence. Why bother going out and paying to eat if you are going to behave like that? I am pleased to see that other restaurants have followed suit, including Michelin-starred restaurant Turner’s in Birmingham, and some of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, however the sad question this raises is why does it take a ban being imposed to force grown adults to communicate and stop being rude?

Speaking of which, having your phone sitting on the table during dinner should absolutely not be allowed. Why does anyone think this is ok? Mid-meal or mid-conversation with your family it is not acceptable to take your phone out and look at it. As far as I’m concerned, this is simply another way of saying “Sorry but what you’re saying isn’t very interesting and looking at my phone is far more important.” Why does the presence of a phone change the rules of standard social etiquette?? And to add insult to injury, most people nowadays don’t even look at it when it makes a noise, they just check every five minutes, just in case someone texted them and they missed it…

AAAAAAAAAHH! I fear this is a problem which will only get worse so unfortunately I am probably ranting in vain. My only hope is that more people come to their senses and realise that you don’t need to check your emails 24 hours a day, and once upon a time it was rude to interrupt conversations and meal times; some believe it still is……

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Friday thought #55 Mountain hut etiquette

So last weekend we decided it would be fun to try and climb the Großglockner, the highest peak in Austria at 3798m. The weather was still warm, autumn colours still beautiful, the weather forecast good, and surely the route or hut wouldn’t be busy in the second week of November…?

How wrong we were.

After a 3 hour drive from Innsbruck, we parked up and set off on the 2 hour hike up to the Stüdlhütte at 2801m. We hiked the last section in the dark via head torch and arrived around 6pm to find to our delight that the winter room was empty. Fantastic, maybe Saturday it would be busy we thought, but clearly people were at work on a Friday so didn’t have time to get up there, lucky us. The hut’s winter room even had electric lighting and a long drop toilet, what luxury!

We melted snow, cooked our dinner, and generally enjoyed the peace and solitude of being alone at almost 3000m metres, then intending to get up around 5am to head for the summit, we settled down in the 14 bed dorm on our own around 9pm. However this signalled the end of the peace and solitude.

At 10.30pm we woke to heavy boots and loud voices. We scrabbled up confused, to meet 2 Slovenian climbers arriving, and telling us ‘there were more coming’. And so it began, from then until 3am, more and more climbers arrived; thumping up and down the stairs, slamming doors, unpacking their bags in the middle of the dorm, shuffling around in noisy goretex, waving torches around, and communicating at the top of their voices. One group even cracked open cans of beer and started having a party at 1am. There was no chance of sleep, yet worse than that was the utter confusion as to where these people were coming from. The walk from the car park was only 2 hours, so these people must have left well after midnight. Why?

Added to this, the wind was picking up outside to the point where it could only be described as howling; indeed the small winter room building had started to violently shake. By 5am we had had enough, it was time to get out of there. Looking around as we left, every bed in the dorm was full with people attempting to sleep, and every spare patch of floor and bench was covered in bodies, there must have been 25 people in the tiny wooden hut. And of course the group of Slovenians banging around shouting and laughing at the top of their voices. Where had they come from and why so late? There’s a question which will continue to baffle me for evermore…!

We battled our way down by head torch through the howling wind, finding it difficult to drag our thoughts away from sleeping. It was such a shame we couldn’t climb the peak, but all we could think about was getting away from those people! It really did make me question what goes through people’s minds when surrounded by sleeping bodies in the middle of the night. If I arrive somewhere late at night I creep around and do everything I can to avoid disturbing anyone. I am aware that 2am is an unsociable time and I try my best to not annoy or bother people. I foolishly thought this was fairly logical, yet I’m starting to think I may be in the minority.

We would still like to climb the Großglockner, but I think next time we’ll avoid the hut…!

Grossglockner - next time hopefully...
Grossglockner – next time hopefully…