The Jones and their Phones

                Years ago, in my childhood [ie many years ago] a popular phrase was: ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. Who were the Joneses? And what did ‘keeping up’ with them mean? Well in those days it meant the acquisition of new-fangled gadgets and appliances and labour-saving devices.

                My mother would scoff. “What would I do with one of those?” she would jeer, at the idea of a twin-tub washing machine. “I can get the washing much cleaner by hand”. And there she would be, sweating over an old ‘copper’ which she stirred with an ancient, bleached and tapered pole, boiling up the sheets, wringing them out in an aged mangle before taking them up the garden to the clothes line.

                Presumably some previous generation must have derided coppers and mangles as new-fangled fripperies, since these machines were not strictly doing it all by ‘hand’, but other than taking everything down to the river and dashing it on a stone, this was ‘hand washing’ to my Ma.

                It was the same story for all contraptions; vacuum cleaner, TV, electric cooker and later, video recorder and microwave oven. Once these items were installed they were deemed life savers and no mention was ever made of life before their arrival.

                Whilst the phrase, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ has fallen out of use, the concept remains and is alive and kicking in these times of rampant technological development. I am proud of the way my mother responded to her neighbours’ purchases, although once she’d belatedly installed her own versions she became evangelistic about them, wondering what she ever did without them and spending hours watching the revolving tub of the automatic front loader or raving at length about the attributes of the video recorder.

                When someone recently described to me a gathering of friends who ridiculed her for her modest [non-apple] smartphone I was shocked. Indeed, of all those gathered, only one, apparently was appropriately equipped phone-wise-with an ‘iphone 5’. What does this say about the rest of us, those of us who have opted for a budget model with a supermarket contract? We are to be pitied. We have not ‘kept up’. Some of us [me] are even still using a plain, bog standard laptop with a keyboard. Imagine that!

                This is not a competition to see who is first to get a new, labour saving device; this is a shameless bid for admiration via one-up-man-ship. On my humble smartish phone that no one has ever heard of I am able to text, call, use Facebook [a debatable advantage], Google, take snaps and send them, email people, catch up with the news and find out where I am. There are also innumerable facilities which I have no interest in [such as games] and many more I know nothing about and am unlikely ever to avail myself of. I like my old fashioned laptop despite the fact that a visiting friend was unable to swipe on to the next photo I was showing her. So there!

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.