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 #9 Are we obsessed with mobile phones and the internet?

I know this is going to sound dreadfully old lady-like and I imagine that I am very much in the minority on this one, but at what point did the world become obsessed beyond recognition with the Internet and mobile phones? The rise of technology is without doubt enormously impressive and those of yesteryear would simply stare open-mouthed at what we are able to do today with regards to communication, but what really bothers me is that mobile phones are no longer just a convenient gadget, they have become a status symbol and an genuine obsession. People simply cannot live without their phones. Look around you on any train, bus, in any waiting room, or simply walking along the street, and all you see is people on their phones. It makes me genuinely wonder what people did with their hands and their brains before phones, as any spare moment seems to be spent checking for texts, checking emails, or simply scrolling through photos. Did people used to just put their hands in their pockets and look at their surroundings? Maybe do some sudoku puzzles, read a newspaper, or even a book?? Hard to imagine now.

I will hold my hands up and happily admit that I love the internet and I love my computer. I think emails are a wonderful way of contacting people and have certainly made the World a much more accessible place. But what I thoroughly enjoy is coming home in the evening and checking my emails, like excitedly waiting for the postman in days gone by. I really don’t see the need for everyone to be reachable via the internet 24 hours a day. I feel lucky to come from a generation who grew up with no internet and no phones and who have now witnessed the phenomenal technological changes of the last 20 years. However I feel genuinely saddened that we are most certainly the last ones. Children nowadays will never know a world where you can’t just google something on a car journey, or check your Facebook messages during Geography lessons.

Most people today could not possibly imagine life without their phone, it is within easy reach at any point of the day; either in their pocket, in their bag or on the table in front of them, just in case that all important text or email comes through. Would it be the end of the world if you didn’t see that message for another 2 hours? Before the Millennium there was no mobile access to the Internet, yet somehow everyone still seemed to manage. Now people can’t even sit through dinner without their phone taking pride of place at the table, obnoxiously beeping every few minutes and with their owner rudely and unsociably interrupting the conversation to check messages and update everyone on the latest Facebook post. Social etiquette has taken on a whole new set of rules, many of which horrify me yet which seem to have been totally accepted by everyone else. Since when is it ok to take your phone out and flick through emails and messages whilst someone is talking to you? Not so long ago it wasn’t acceptable to put your elbows on the table during dinner…

I really do think that it is ruining the way people interact with the World around them, and I worry for future generations who are headed for a life where their main social activities revolve around a smartphone and where having 500+ ‘friends’ is both normal and accepted. Maybe I’m too desperately clinging to the past and need to simply suck it up, buy myself a smartphone and roll with the times, but I can’t see it. I’ll always prefer to talk to someone in person rather than on the phone and will continue to look forward to checking my messages upon returning home. New gadgets are fine, and I’m all for moving forward with technology, but I worry that we are moving so quickly that we are losing sight of what’s important and necessary and forgetting that life before this obsession to be in constant contact wasn’t so bad after all, and in my opinion much calmer, less frantic and a lot less stressful…

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Are smartphones turning us in to a generation of rude, obsessive recluses?