The Menace of the Mobile Phone

Having been away for some considerable time, I have been appalled since my return by the fragmentation of our society that mobile 'phones appear to be causing. Let me explain.

Time was when in order to conduct a telephone conversation, one would retire to another room and close the door; either that or if a call from a public 'phone were necessary, to the confines of a kiosk. Either way, the intimate details of our lives and those of our confidants were not permitted to spill out into the presence of those whom they did not concern.

With the advent of the mobile 'phone however, all semblance of propriety seems to have been cast to the four winds. On public transport, in shops, even walking down the street, people willingly regale unsuspecting members of the public with the most tedious detail of their sorry lives, presumably labouring under the misapprehension that this must be of tremendous interest to others. It appears that for the duration of a mobile 'phone call, people are quite prepared to hold anyone else in their vicinity in total disregard, and maintain the absurd pretence that they are simply not there. Not only are these people deluded, but quite ignorant of what used to be called common courtesy.

Another example of such ignorance which one frequently observes is that of someone entering a pub in the company of a friend, only then to spend much of their time together talking to someone else on a mobile 'phone, oblivious to the discomfort and alienation of the other. Just what kind of message does this send to their companion?

Should it require clarification, my grievance is with how people use the mobile 'phone, not with the device itself. I am not in any way averse to communication nor the means thereof. I do not disapprove of people communicating with one another; quite the reverse. I therefore have no objections to telephones per se-mobile or otherwise. My principal objection is to the way they are being used to the detriment and inconvenience of others.

Nor do I deny the mobile 'phone its usefulness, nor even that it benefits business. However, what is certain is that a great many people do use it to the frustration of others (whether deliberately or not) while they are conducting their business. What I am saying is that for a great many mobile 'phone users, "business benefit" and "efficiency" are the whole justification, and hang the consequences for everyone else. Just because something is advantageous to certain individuals does not mean it benefits society as a whole; for example, thumbscrews are advantageous to inquisitors, but that does not mean they contribute to the greater good.

So far as I can see, this device is simply a means (were another needed) of enabling people to encapsulate themselves when in a crowd, thus fragmenting an already deeply divided society. You may say "this does not constitute fragmentation of society." I say that no society merely consists of individuals communicating with their friends and family; this happens irrespective of the prevailing social conditions, except among sociopaths. It consists rather of people living together in community, having regard for the well being of one another and concern for the people amongst whom they live. The fragmentation of society to which I refer is that caused by an increasing number of people now who have simply no awareness of others, and spend their whole lives communicating only with people they already know, often by mobile 'phone. If anyone is cutting themselves off from society, it is they.

But when one stops to consider the criminal quantity of premium rate revenue that must be squandered across the nation on the question "where are you?", surely we must conclude that our society is engaged in one of the greatest acts of corporate prodigality ever to beset our island race. Responses to this question such as "I'm on the train", "I'm in Sainsbury's at the checkout" or "I'm on the lavatory" will have a familiar ring to most of us, I am certain.

What I find still more annoying is that people insist on carrying these gadgets with them, and then leaving them both unattended and switched on. Would someone please explain to me the point of having a pocket-size communication device which is then left unattended, if it is not to maximise the irritation of those in whose presence it was abandoned?

Furthermore, I take the gravest of exceptions to those nauseating electronic renditions of "the popular classics" which many seem to delight in applying as their ring. I have little but contempt for Classic FM and its ilk, with its 'magpie culture' approach to real music by lifting the 'less challenging' excerpts and only playing those. But then to parade them with the senseless repetition and vile electronica that only a machine can bring is beyond the pale. As to the other less recognisable 'cheery little chirps' emitted by these infernal contraptions, nothing makes me feel more like availing myself of a large mallet.

And yet perhaps the most sinister misuse of this contraption is that of conducting mobile 'phone conversations whilst driving. Not only is this extremely dangerous to the public at large, since one's attention is divided and one's manual dexterity and reflex responses compromised, but it is also both reckless and dangerous for the 'phone user. I long to see this horrendous, and in my view, criminal practice outlawed, and that law policed vigorously.

It is my belief that our society has opened Pandora's Box, and now that this misfortune is unleashed upon the world, how can we put it back in the box? In other words, now that patterns of behaviour in respect of this device have been established, how can they now be corrected? So far as I am concerned, the sooner we consign this anti-social menace to the dustbin of history, and the attendant clatter abates, the better I shall like it.

as published in the Nottingham Evening Post, 23rd August 2000

...and the response...

The vast majority of the respondees appear to completely miss the fact that the original complaint was not with the device itself, but with the way in which it is used. R.M.


©2000 Reader's Doglist Association of Great Britain