The other day, the Swedish phone company announced that it was going to do away with the remaining 1 200 phone booths that stand dotted through our elongated country. Why? Because no one uses them anymore – well, at least not to make phone calls from. Phone booths can, as I am sure you can all imagine, be put to a number of assorted uses, but as of next year, secret assignations in the cosy interior (?) of a dilapidated booth is out.
Most Swedish people below the age of thirty don’t have a fixed phone line. I guess that’s valid in most countries these days. Instead, young people live in symbiosis with their smart phones. It is rare indeed to see them taking a walk without also hearing them talk. At first one worries they might be mentally unstable, seeing as they’re talking to thin air, but as they approach it becomes obvious they’re on the phone, this deduced by the earplug and by the way they’re cradling their phone in their hands.
Of course, the younger generation generally don’t use their phones to TALK (except when they’re out walking). They use them for everything else, from organising their lives, to booking plane tickets, to googling who Brilliant-Savarin was – well, what have you. They seem to prefer texts to actual calls. Some of them watch movies on them. All of them have music on them. Most of them handle their entire social contacts via their smart phone. So who needs a land line, right?
I am old enough to remember a time when a mobile phone (and this was long before it was considered ‘smart’) was an extremely heavy novelty that the yuppies of anon would drag along for show. I am old enough to remember a time when I wasn’t always accessible – and no one expected me to be. Nowadays, people go into a panic if one doesn’t respond to a phone call. I suppose images of an injured me blossom in the brain of my caller, when in fact I’m sitting on the jetty swinging my feet and enjoying the silence that surrounds me. Twenty years ago, not answering your phone was neither a crime nor a reason for undue worry. Today, you don’t pick up and you’re potentially anti-social – or work-shy.
Interestingly enough, I have noticed that while people my age group seem incapable of turning their mobile phones off – or ignoring them – young people are fantastic at dissing incoming calls.
“Shouldn’t you take it?” I ask, looking at the phone that for the third time in five minutes is vibrating like mad on the kitchen table.
“If she really wants to talk to me, she’ll call again,” says son with a shrug.
Well excuse me, but seeing as the poor girl has called three consecutive times she clearly DOES want to tak to him, right?
“I don’t feel like it. Not now.” Son ambles off, texting as he goes.
The smart phone is a marvellous invention. It allows the poor in underdeveloped countries to leap-frog towards a modern future, it brings an affordable technology to people all across the globe. With a smart phone people can access internet and social media sites. Videos of happenings in one remote corner of the world can be shared in a matter of seconds, and these days there are very few blind spots left on our planet – mobile coverage is universal. But do we talk more with each other? Has communication truly improved? I’m not all that sure.
Still; the present technology has the benefit of connecting people. In the near future, people will become more and more redundant, as the machines start talking to each other. Is it only me, or does this development send a frisson of disquiet up more spines than mine? “The internet of things” is a term which encompasses this bright new future where the human interface becomes unnecessary. In some cases, this is probably a good thing, what with human error and all that, but do we really want to live our lives based on an artificially intelligent infrastructure?
Reading through this post, I am struck by an uncomfortable insight: when I was young I’d roll my eyes (discreetly, of course) when older relatives bemoaned the present day, their voices waxing lyrical as they reminisced about “the good old days”. Now I worry that I might be one of those enervating nostalgics, viewing the technological advances of our world with more scepticism than awe. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch my son rolling his eyes. At me!
“What?” I demand.
“Nothing,” he says with a little smile. As he passes my chair he stops to give me a hug. “Love you.”
So who cares if he rolls his eyes, right? And as long as people keep on saying that to each other, whether face to face or by phone, this world is a wonderful, marvellous place.