7 March 2013


They're all at it. On the subway train, at the airport, sitting in cafes, just walking along the pavement. I'm talking about the sodding mobile phone. More and more it's becoming like an electronic comforter - checking Facebook, texting messages, playing games and sometimes even making or receiving phone calls. Those who created this monster - Nokia, Apple, Motorola, Orange, Vodaphone and the rest must be rubbing their hand with glee even as they design new ways to squeeze yet more money out of the hordes of mobile addicts who share my planet. It is easy to feel like an alien from another world.
Before Jon and I left Kanchanaburi, we were sitting in a quiet and rather humble  riverside cafe mostly constructed from bamboo. We were the only customers and after a while we decided it was time for lunch. I tried to get the attention of one of the four members of staff on duty - three women and a young lad. All four of them were so entranced by their solitary mobile activities that they appeared to have forgotten what they were meant to be doing. We tried waving but in the end we had to get up to interrupt their button pressing in order to get some service. They were surely on very low incomes and yet they each had an expensive mobile phone or tablet.

It's the same everywhere, not just in Thailand. Spare moments are filled with jiggery pokery on the mobile and it can be as if real life is somehow inadequate, inferior. A couple of weeks ago at one of my favourite local restaurants - "The Banana Leaf" -  I noticed a married couple at the next table. They had finished their meal and she was busily playing a game on her mobile phone - something like "Tetris" while on the other side of the table the husband was playing his little shoot-em-up game. They weren't conversing, so hypnotised were they by their phones.

If anything, this plague is getting worse. Tweeting and texting, googling and simply checking to see if the rest of the world has noticed your existence. And it's all so fleeting, so flimsy. Not like hunkering down to read a good book or perusing a good newspaper. It's click-click and move on, flitting from this to that like a butterfly in a sort of virtual world beyond what is right in front of our eyes - Reality!


  1. Ooooh! I wrote about this very thing not long since. I so agree with you. The biscuit for me was when someone who shall be nameless came for lunch; sitting around the table with not one phone but two, which were constantly checked. How I kept my hands off him I'll never know.

    On a more serious note, my partner died of a brain tumour located behind his ear. His love of his, in those days house brick phone I'm convinced was the cause.
    I know it's not proven, but I do always wonder what effect the over use of mobiles on young brains will


  2. The worst part is not the rudeness of it all, but the fact that kids nowadays have so much electronic interaction with their friends that they are beginning to lose the ability to interact in face-to-face situations because they cannot detect nuances of facial expression or voice.

    This is just my opinion, of course.

  3. I hate mobile phones.

    Fifteen years ago I was up in NE Angola, a place called Saurimo, and our team came across a European woman, a nun, who had been running a child assistance charity without a break for ten years. That's how long it was since she had spoken to her mother. So I set the satellite phone up and tracked her mother down. She spoke for less than thirty seconds and hung up saying that 'this must be terribly expensive'. We were all tooled up the eyeballs but she was a nun so I didn't think it was appropriate to stick a gun to her head and say 'Talk! Talk as long as you want!' so we had to persuade her that it was a new free service provided by the Catholic Church and His Holiness, the Pope, really wanted her to talk to her Mum.

    Over an hour and several thousand dollars later, she hung up.

    That was a clear example of the benefits of improved communications.

    Unless it is my son, or anyone else dear to me, I will not answer my mobile outside of office hours, simple as that. In my last job, I had the head office in Dubai ringing me at four in the morning. At seven I had the local client ringing me.

    I recall once receiving a call from my boss at one in the morning.

    'Well what do you want me to do about it?' I asked him.

    He told me he wanted me to sort it.

    'No', I said, 'I will sort it but what do you want me to do about it RIGHT NOW? Everyone is asleep in Angola except me. What do you expect me to do Right Now?'

    No answer.

    'OK' I said, 'I'll call you in the morning. Good night Sir'

  4. The most gratifying part of leaving work was the ritual handing in of my Blackberry, pager and separate out of hours mobile. It never felt as if they were useful business tools, but rather that I was a slave to their technology.

    I didn't bother to replace any of them and have felt a great sense of liberation ever since.

  5. I nearly got lynched once in a supermarket for not answering my mobile phone. The whole checkout queue watched me just cancel the call (from work) and I coud hear the intake of breath.

    When I worked "for the man" I tried to cure one boss of calling my mobile by charging him a minimum of three hours (at contractor rates) every time he rang it - three phone calls within the quarter hour equalled nine hours on an invoice etc. He just paid up, every time ...

    We're lucky in one way in Lincolnshire because you need two paper cups and a ong bit of string to make a phone call here. Signal? No, there ain't no signal round 'ere.

    @Lettice Loofah - I'm sorry to hear of the manner of your partner's passing (although no way is "nice"). I wonder why those early bricks all had extendable aerials and yet now there's not even a bump to tell you where the electrons are landing and taking off?

  6. I used to have teams of teenagers that I took to events in my van. My law was no headphones, no iPods, no electronic anything on the way to the event. That was time when the kids needed to study and bond with each other. Such a strange thing, having to force kids to socialize with each other in person.

  7. Couldn't agree more. And we're not talking just kids here - folk of all shapes and sizes seem to have been taken in (or taken over). And the funny thing is, most of the ones my age (let's say, in their 40s) spend the (little) time they are not twiddling, complaining about how the gadgets have taken over their lives...

  8. Yes Brian. My Dad says sadly that no-one ever phones or texts him (I prefer to SKYPE or use a landline) but every time I talk to him he's complaining how hard it is to work out how to use his new mobile phone. He's 86...

  9. LETTICE LEAF Thanks for dropping by. So sorry that your partner died that way. I suspect that some of the side effects of all this technology are deliberately being brushed under carpets as they try to crush any possibility of legal action.
    RHYMES WITH... It may be "just your opinion" but it is one that many others share - myself included.
    INDIANA HIPPO 'OK' I said, 'I'll call you in the morning. Good night Sir'
    "Oh just before you go you Teutonic fireball," growled my boss. "You're fired!"
    SHOOTING PARROTS Regarding that sense of liberation it is also rumoured widely in the blogosphere that you no longer wear underpants! Can you verify this - perhaps with photographic evidence?
    OWL WOOD Do they have flushing toilets in Lincolnshire yet? Do the people still ride horses to work? Do Lincolnshire men of means like yourself still frolic on haystacks with ruddy cheeked milkmaids?
    JAN BLAWAT I wish you were Empress of the Known World making wise edicts for wayward youth to follow. I would happily be one of your lieutenants - as long as you promised not to thrash me with your riding crop!
    BRIAN Forget the Muslim/Christian axis of hatred, let's make war with the mobile/cellphone freaks. We'll hit them while they are still checking out their stupid Facebook pages.
    KATHERINE 86 and still belligerent! That's my kind of guy!

  10. So true and so depressing YP...

  11. I know there are disadvantages like the episode you have recounted but the advantages of all this technology are huge. For instance I'm able to establish contact and a day to day relationship with second cousins on the other side of the world whom I've never met, by way of the snippets of their daily lives I am able share via Facebook. As in most things it's a question of balance.

  12. Confession time: though I like to believe I control my gadgets and "virtual" life, and not the other way round, I have to admit to having both Facebook and Twitter as well as my blog!! But, and it's a big BUT, self-control is the key; helped in my case by not having a mobile or "smart" phone, and hence I can only waste/invest/spend time on the networks when I'm at home - usually a short period after lunch before the all important "siesta", or at night if there's nothing on telly (i.e. most nights). I do enjoy the way I use them, and think I get what practical benefits I can out of them, but I do clearly see that many, if not most, folk, have been taken over. On the pavement, in bars, in shops, driving, sneaking a look under the desk in my class, on the settee, even from bed probably, it seems people can't resist "checking" what's going on somewhere else.

    Anecdote-time; in Hoyland a local bakery has a sign saying if you are on the phone when it's your turn to be served, we'll serve the next in line.
    So, when does the fightback start, YP? We'll hit them on the beaches¿?

  13. Four years ago, when my adult children were home for Thanksgiving, they came to a homey, wonderful full breakfast one morning with their cell phones. My son had two with him, a personal one and a business one. I protested mightily about how rude they were being and got the proverbial eye rolls! For lunch, I sat with the rest of the but ate while reading a book to try to teach a lesson. They just thought it was their introvert mother at play. So, when my fabulous dinner was served, they all found their plates on their beds with a note from me that said that if it was more important that they have their phones available than it was to come together and converse and laugh and argue and love as we all had done when they were children ... well then, they could just eat in their bedrooms and their dad and I would enjoy our time together without them.

    The phones have never been at my dinner table again. Nor do they take them out of their pockets/purse on the rare occasions that we dine elsewhere. Lesson learned, I would say!


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