I started work at British Telecom in the sales department in the mid 1980s.
Back then we had two types of phone: either with a dial or press buttons instead of the dial.
We had a small showroom (or ‘parlour’ as it was confusingly titled) where members of the public could come in and place their order or speak to us. That showroom contained a fax, telex machine and even an early prototype mobile phone.
The engineers could borrow this if they were going out to a remote site, providing they had the stamina to haul the battery pack around with it, which resembled a portable PA system.
The last three decades have seen enormous leaps forward in terms of telecommunications technology and our family, like most, have our fair share of smart phones, tablets and laptops and we panic if our phone dies unexpectedly.
Email, the rise of social media and the ability to Skype were the stuff of science fiction and have brought unimaginable benefits. If we are to believe the TV adverts, one in three relationships start on-line and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to re-connect with old friends, share a thought or funny moment and connect with our heroes and celebrities, should we so wish.
But the downside has to be the effect all this instant gratification has on real time, face to face interaction. People having a conversation will immediately switch their attention to an incoming text or phone call.
I’ve seen customers at supermarket checkouts conduct an entire conversation on their mobile whilst going through the whole process (including paying and walking away) without once acknowledging the person on the till. It’s the same story in the post office and bank. I’m no saint, but if my phone goes off while I’m in there, it will ring unanswered in my pocket.
At least it’s a factory set tone and not some embarrassing 80s power ballad.
However, there does seem to be a change in the air. Festival-goers and lovers of live music are starting to criticise those who choose to watch the event through a 4” screen held in an upstretched arm. Kate Bush requested no filming of her comeback tour, in the hope that her fans would have the best live experience and enjoy it in the moment, and venues have banned telescopic ‘selfie sticks’.
Our daughter and her friends have recognised that they are all far too attached to their mobiles and have collectively decided that when they meet up for a meal or a chat, mobiles are on silent and put away out of reach.
After all, the people they have chosen to be with are sat right there and deserve their undivided attention.
Obviously, once the meal is over they will be back on their phones, desperate to know what they have missed, but it’s a start and to be honest, it’s an example which more of us should follow.