Recently I was travelling by train, and was sitting at a table in a railway carriage. Opposite me was an elderly lady, and next to her a young man. The latter was, shall we say, very fond indeed of his mobile phone (cellphone). He used it a lot. He called many people. And when he did so, he spoke with a very loud voice. What he said was of no great consequence; generally he was advising the person he was talking to on where he (or the train) now was. This went on for some time. Them just as his phone rang and he reached for it, the lady opposite me (and next to him) reached out and grabbed the phone before he could take it. She put it in her handbag, and told him he could have it back when either he or she reached their destination. He was clearly stunned and thinking about what to say when others who had seen this began to applaud. So he stayed silent. I left the carriage before either of them did, so I did not see the end of the drama.
Mobile phones are now ubiquitous. Apparently there is a service you can buy in Hong Kong whereby the rent you a mobile phone and, while you have it, call you every 15 minutes, so that the people you are with can see that you are important. While the idea of this may seem terrifying, you have to admire the entrepreneurship.
Are we all just too addicted to constant communication? Of course I have a mobile phone also – indeed, I have referred to it in this blog, and you may recall that it is an Apple iPhone 3G. But not many people can call me on it; only about five have the number. I do not like constantly being called, and think that the occasional period of silence is a good thing. But on the other hand, I have to admit that I use the phone a lot for instant messaging, either by SMS (text) or email. So I cannot say that I avoid the temptations of mobile communication.
It is of course wonderful to be able to be instantly in touch, wherever we are. It means that we can bring our community with us as we travel, at least in some sense, and to enjoy their company and their comfort. I would not wish to be without that any more. But I also acknowledge that we are losing the opportunity for quiet reflection, because even when we are silent others around us may not be.
My grandmother, towards the end of her life, used to say that 20th century people were afraid of what they would find if they were confronted with silence and solitude. Maybe what we have to try to do is to find that appropriate balance between sociable communication and peaceful insight, and the ability to gain something from both.Explore posts in the same categories: society, technology comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.