The Not Quite World Wide Web

New year, new phone. My twenty four month contract [with a well known supermarket which shall remain nameless] was due to expire. I’d never been entirely thrilled with the phone. Though larger than its predecessor it was still tiny. It was also slow enough for me to be able to hoover the entire house or read all of War and Peace while it loaded anything and possessed the memory capacity of an average flea [and certainly less than our garden pond fish, who remember they are ravenous a whole winter after they’ve been fed]; besides, its screen size was inadequate for someone of advancing years and less than perfect eyesight.

The expiry gave me a chance to review my technological needs. If I had one, single, overriding aspiration it was to acquire mobile internet-that which some call ‘a dongle’.

If you’ve followed Anecdotage throughout the three [yes, three!] years I’ve been churning it out you will know that on occasions I, along with Husband clamber into a home-on-wheels and set off to destinations afar. Access to internet has always been inconsistent. Sometimes there are extravagant claims that Wifi is free and available throughout a site and there is nothing of the sort. Other times we pay some ridiculous sum for the privilege of two hours access on one device only to find-it is not available. Or we can get internet if we stand on top of a picnic table outside the toilets as long as nobody else in the vicinity is hunched over their laptop. Often we are teased by intermittent flashes of connection only to have our hopes dashed before Google has so much as loaded the local tourist board website or I am halfway through one of the long distance Scrabble turns I’m in the habit of taking. We skirmish over who has priority over the one hour’s Wifi on one device. I stress about getting blog posts published [yes, yes, it is a load of rubbish-but still…].

Now I have it; mobile internet-a ‘dongle’ if you like. It is a little, dinky, white slab like a pebble with a black gash along the centre. That’s all. I have tried it at home and it works. Eureka! Now I just have to travel somewhere.

In a week or so we are off to the Caribbean. Last year I reached a new nadir in my mobile phone experiences when all the credit on the tiny, useless phone got sucked out of it within about twenty seconds as I foolishly attempted a Facebook ‘check-in’. The subsequent complications [when there was no credit to phone the bank regarding failed cash withdrawals] are too painful to relate. Barbados has some of the most expensive mobile charges in the world.

The bad news? The little dongley-thing will not work in the West Indies, due to there being no agreement with any of those islands. One thing I know: I will not be using my new [much improved] phone for anything once I am there!

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Is the art of conversation dead? Discuss!

                No one can dispute that the way we communicate is changing. You don’t need to leave the house to know it. Our homes are full of screens of various types. Unless you live in the Amazon rainforest or a village in Papua New Guinea you will have access to some means of electronic communication-and even then I don’t doubt that whilst they are celebrating their hunting trips, dancing around a totem pole and performing gruesome initiation rites the younger members of these jungle communities will be texting or playing ‘Angry Birds’.

                Science and technology forecasters assure us that in the future almost everything will be a screen; smart fridges, washing machines…even our clothing. We’ll be able to shrug on our Mulberry raincoat, walk to the bus stop and text onto the pocket as we go, or talk to the collar…or just talk. We are already used to seeing people walking along gibbering animatedly. Once upon a time they’d have been thought to have been a little strange and you might have crossed the street to avoid them. Now though, they will be talking to someone else; imparting valuable gems of information such as ‘I’m in the supermarket’ or ‘I’m on the bus’.

                But what, in the midst of all this wonderful development, is happening to conversation? And what is happening to social interaction? Many [I suspect younger] folks consider screen based communication a boon. I do myself. I do the Facebook thing. I email. I text. I rarely chat on the telephone. There is one peculiarity, however that I exhibit that draws pitying looks or exclamations of amusement. I do own a smartphone, but I keep it turned off. Yes! I know how strange this is. What if someone texts me, or sends me an email, or posts something new on to Facebook? What will I do? Well the answer, reader is that I will see all these vital snippets of news or information later-when I switch the thing on [which I do, in an idle moment, about once each day].

                Am I alone in considering it antisocial to be staring at a screen in the company of others? It is an increasingly common sight-a group of individuals seated around a table at a pub or in a restaurant, all staring down at their phones. Why did they come out together? And what are they doing? Reading texts? Watching ‘Youtube’? To me this is like ignoring the person next to you at a dinner table to speak to someone at the other end. Are they playing games? Why?

                I’m predicting that within a couple of years whatever government is in will be hurrying in emergency initiatives to combat lack of speech in children, and dictating that the art of conversation be taught in schools-beginning, perhaps with teaching ‘eye-contact’ skills in Key Stage One.

                Or maybe it doesn’t matter if no one speaks to anyone else face to face in the future. Kay sera sera.