Neil McNicholas: A strange world where nobody stays out of touch

MAYBE it’s just me and this whole thing with mobile phones. I have a mobile, I’ve had one for years. The one I have at the moment is one I always wanted and I’ve had it for ages. The front flips up like one of those Star Trek communicators. The thing is, though, I hardly ever use it. In fact, the money it was last topped up with had Queen Victoria’s picture on it.

The only reason I have a mobile is in case of emergencies: like the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere or in case I’m ever running late for an appointment (I’m actually always early). I might as well carry my mobile around in a red box with a glass front marked “break glass in case of emergency”. Only two people have my number but given that I rarely, if ever, have my phone switched on, they’d be unable to reach me any sooner than when I next saw them so the concept of an emergency call doesn’t really work.

I therefore have a hard time understanding the compulsion that so many people seem to have these days that they must be in touch with the universe at all times. You see them walking (or driving) along the street with a Bluetooth gadget sticking out of their ear like members of the Borg Collective. Or the instant people step off a plane, or leave a theatre, dozens of mobile phones appear from pockets or handbags as everyone responds to the compulsion to check for tweets and text messages.

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Whatever did we do before the mobile phone? I can remember when using a phone box was a novelty – back in the days of having to actually use coins and pressing buttons A and B to make a connection. Few families could afford to have a phone in their home and anyway it was hardly worth the trouble. People only used the phone when absolutely necessary, everything else could wait. And that was the point really. Your social world wouldn’t come crashing down around your feet just because you couldn’t be instantly in touch with someone. Whatever you wanted to say could wait until you saw them – which at least meant you had plenty to talk about when you did.

These days you have to wonder what people find to talk about in person when they’ve already been texting and tweeting before they meet. And, of course, it begs the question as to why waste money texting and tweeting if you are going to be seeing that person anyway? I have also never understood, unless it’s purely for reasons of economy, why people elect to text someone on a mobile when they could just as easily use it to talk to them? And if it is for reasons of economy, by texting someone aren’t you saying that they aren’t worth the cost of a phone call? With friends like that...

There was once a time when if someone was walking along the street talking out loud, men in white coats would appear and take them away wearing one of those jackets with sleeves that tie at the back.

Nowadays, everyone is walking along talking out loud – some of them very loud. Why do they think everyone else needs to hear their conversation? And isn’t that exactly why it is so annoying to have people use their mobiles on buses and trains – and they know that, but it doesn’t stop them from doing it. Given that most train carriages are hermetically sealed these days, somewhere there should be a bucket of water into which you could throw annoying people’s mobiles. Open windows on buses make the procedure that bit easier.

I was at a concert recently. There used to be an announcement before concerts began, informing people that it is illegal to make video recordings, but they don’t seem to bother anymore. No one took much notice anyway because that’s how people are, but it’s so easy to make recordings these days given that most mobiles record video. People recording their favourite music doesn’t really bother me, just as it doesn’t seem to bother them that they are breaking the law. What does bother me, and what I don’t understand, is someone texting on their mobile all through – and I do mean all the way through – the concert, and there was one such person sitting in front of me.

She couldn’t possibly have been concentrating on the performance she’d paid good money to see, unless she was particularly good at multi-tasking, so why pay all that money and then not watch the concert you’ve come to see? And would the world really have ended had she not been in touch with the universe for a couple of hours?

Personally I think we need more jackets with sleeves that tie at the back.

Father Neil McNicholas is a priest for St Hilda’s Parish, Whitby.