19 April 2013

Epidemiology

There was a time when as a solitary traveller you would strike up conversations with strangers in bars, in transit or in restaurants. You'd be passing the time of day, maybe exchanging stories, adding to your appreciation of life's rich tapestry - for we all have different stories to tell and how one man or woman sees the world will be different from the next though sometimes it is comforting to find common ground.

"Have you come far?"..."What do you think of the beer?"..."Are you American?"..."Aren't you staying in my hotel?" and so on. And then conversation would be sparked and you never knew where that might take you.

But today it is different because of mobile devices. The stranger plonks himself or herself down and yanks out the obligatory i-phone, tablet or notebook and retreats to a virtual world of Facebook, i-Tunes, email, Skype, digital photos or online games. The immediate neighbouring world where other people really exist is blocked out, somehow deemed to be inferior - less worthy of attention. So the random conversations have almost ceased and there is far less opportunity to connect with strangers. Ironic really when the familiar mantra is that digital devices enhance communication.

I know I have banged on about this before so sorry if I am boring you. But it won't be the last time I consider this modern techno-hypnotic behaviour that is, in my view, spreading like a terrible epidemic around the world - changing what it means to be a human being.

In Sri Lanka there was far less MTO (mobile technology obsession). People were looking outwards as they have done through the centuries, having time for strangers like me - living in the here and now instead of scurrying to their little screens. But in Bangkok, the subway trains and sky trains are filled with goons in technological trances, forever fiddling with their touch screens, grinning about stuff they are hearing secretly through their headphones.  And where ever you go you see workers - security men, cleaners, airport workers, taxi drivers perpetually checking their phones and mini laptops for messages from outer space.

I know it's not going to change. In fact it will only get worse and there's nothing that I or anybody else can do to halt this slide into self-aggrandizement and superficial techno-babble. But like King Canute, I would urge people to switch off their phones when in genuine social situations, to really look at the world we live in and to find time for strangers as our forebears did. There is more to life than the phone or the tablet computer...isn't there?

11 comments:

  1. Don't be too sure; some super-geek might find a way of mucking-up the whole system. I might even applaud him.

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  2. Like King Canute? You lost me there. Please explain. Isn't he the one that told the tide to stop coming in?

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  3. I have a optimistic theory (that may only exist in my head), that we are currently experiencing the boom, but in a couple of years, people will start to get fed up with these obsessions and come back down to earth. I can see how the novelty and amazingnesss (?) of these gadgets has grabbed everyone's attention, but for how long can this 24/7 obsession last. Surely after a while people will want to get back to reality ...?

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  4. I'm with Brian in our pink castle of balloons and lollipops. But then I think of the other swings: Victorian restraint, sixties sexuality... I'd like to believe we are swinging about some human-needed norm...

    F'rinstance, in NZ (and elsewhere if all the wonderful home-made stuff on etsy is an indication) there is a swing back to handcrafted things. And I also think we are moving from the excesses of takeaways and pre-packaged food back to home-made from scratch.

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  5. CRO MAGNON You might be right sir. There have been various significant attacks on the internet and one day perhaps some malicious nobody or even a malevolent government will upset the entire system for good.
    RHYMES WITH... The point is that Canute could not keep the waves back just as my concerns about all this mobile technology will have no effect upon its tidal surge.
    BRIAN Dream on sir. This stuff is here to stay and its only going to intensify from Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo.
    KATHERINE Food for thought madam, food for thought. I hope you are right but I am naturally pessimistic.

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  6. Interesting observations from a traveller. That virtual world is something we retreat to .. Sad but true. Is it safer perhaps? I don't think so, but will be something I will be aware of as I start my own travels around the world.

    Cheers :)

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  7. I get my knickers in a twist about many things and this has to be pretty high on my hate list. I wrote recently on my blog about family and visitors coming to the house. My only memory of their visit is seeing the tops of their heads as zoned out, they caught up with 'twanker' or whatever it's called. On one occasion a visitor sat at our table and shared our food, fun and chat, all the while checking his not one, but two phones. How I stopped myself from suggesting I stick it up his arse to see if the reception was any better I'll never know! I must be going soft in my old age.

    LLX

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  8. I have spent all my life travelling and half of it in strange hotels. I was never afraid of walking up to the bar, ordering a drink and then sticking my hand out at the first person I saw and say, 'Hello, my name is TG' and take it from there. I even got a job like that once.

    I also lament the demise of letter writing. Now communication is a curt, badly written email.

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  9. I agree with your well-written post. Ironically, I would only know of it through blogger/Internet and my response here is equally electronic. Like any tool, the gizmos are a double-edged sword. Here to stay. How we choose to use them, well, we'll just have to hope for the best. And it's not just phones, etc. My mother would prefer to stay home and watch TV reruns than spend live visits. Maybe we're not really the true social creatures we think we are... Ah well. *sigh*

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  10. CAROL CUNNINGHAM Thanks for dropping by and I am pleased I have given you a little food for thought.
    LETTICE LEAF Well I am glad that we have this in common and we can be grumpy together about mobile devices. I hate it when people talk loudly on phones in public places. This also makes me feel like applying the phones to the offenders - like giant suppositories.
    HIPPO You can also join my middle aged Grumpy Club! I am with you on letter writing. It used to be such a joy to open a letter from a friend or family member. I can barely recall the last time I received a letter like that.
    KRIS Thanks for visiting my grumpy blog. I take your point about the "double-edged sword" and the implication that none of us are immune from this epidemic.

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  11. CAROL CUNNINGHAM Thanks for dropping by and I am pleased I have given you a little food for thought. I hope you enjoy your travels and that you make many great memories.
    LETTICE LEAF Well I am glad that we have this in common and we can be grumpy together about mobile devices. I hate it when people talk loudly on phones in public places. This also makes me feel like applying the phones to the offenders - like giant suppositories.
    HIPPO You can also join my middle aged Grumpy Club! I am with you on letter writing. It used to be such a joy to open a letter from a friend or family member. I can barely recall the last time I received a letter like that.
    KRIS Thanks for visiting my grumpy blog. I take your point about the "double-edged sword" and the implication that none of us are immune from this epidemic.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.