It is one of the perennial questions of our age, is technology making our lives better (i.e. easier, less complicated, less stressful) or harder (to include more pressured, more stressful, more hectic, more complex)? I confess I am not quite Luddite, however, Apps leave me cold and my children telling me two Pokemon were sat in my living room simply generated a suspicious peer at the armchair. I saw nothing. I could care less about gaming and have no interest in owning an Amazon Echo, Microsoft Surface Studio, Apple iPod Pro, Hathchimal or fitbit. Although, I do have a telephone, landline and mobile and it is upon this 'family' of tech that I muse as part of the Huff Post UK's current series, 'Tech for Good'.
In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for the telephone. Roughly a hundred years later, yuppies were waving mobile bricks around as the ultimate status symbol and by 2016 phones would be so ubiquitous that some Cities have built 'text lanes' for pedestrians to avoid accident or injury as they wander, transfixed to little screens. I'm of the generation that remembers phoning my Nana and Granda every Sunday, from a pay phone. I spent my teenage years sitting on the stairs, receiver to my ear, chatting to friends, my Dad poking his head out of the living room, tapping his watch. Calls cost much money then and nobody was giving out 'free' minutes in 1990.
In my first year at University, my room in Halls was above the common room, home of the buildings' only phone. Sometimes I would hear it ring persistently. It may have been something urgent or something mundane, but if it wasn't answered, there was no way of knowing. Now, if that phone even exists today I wouldn't want to stake my livelihood on having a £1 for every time it rang. I suspect every student at my alma mater has their own smart phone bleeping away with emails, texts and apps. The notifications like Pavlov's dog, generating instant action in the form of peering at a small screen.
Today, I would venture that most of us carry our phones with us, most of the time. Even me. We all know this. Therefore if we message or phone someone and do not elicit a fairly quick response, it begins to generate a number of questions and emotions. Depending on the message, recipient and circumstances anything from mild wonder, heightened curiosity, deep concern, extreme irritation and even blood boiling anger can be generated.
As for landlines, most of us have some kind of number capturing record and/ or answer-machine. Leaving a message assumes a fairly quick response and when that is not received, can generate all of the aforementioned emotions. With both, there is now an assumption of availability.
This has seeped into workplaces, i.e. if you have a work phone, there is nothing to stop a cheeky check on a Sunday evening or whilst on holiday, except there is, if you're not being paid for that time and you should be relaxing or doing something else, possibly with someone else. It seeps into our social time with other people too, and I'm sure we're all guilty of checking and sometimes responding to beeps when with friends or family. We wouldn't wander off to talk to someone else mid-sentence, so why do we respond to the bleep?
This assumption of availability is one aspect that I most bitterly resent. The person phoning or texting likely has no knowledge of what I am doing. I may be driving, at the cinema with my children, having dinner with a friend, working or indeed just needing to do nothing whilst staring at a 9pm drama after a hectic day. I was once told off by a friend for my text etiquette and I felt truly awful. She said I had made her feel like I didn't value her and as one to whom friendships are incredibly valuable and important, I felt rotten. I feel terrible every time I tap the text that starts, 'Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying....'. I feel even worse when very occasionally it has been so long since I responded that I can hardly bear to respond because on the recipients trail of texts it will highlight to them just how long it has been and my, 'Please accept my apologies...' will look pathetic even though it is heartfelt. Sometimes life feels so busy and overwhelming and at the end of another long day, tapping out a few lines in a message feels utterly beyond me, 'Please accept my apologies if that sounds ridiculous....'.
But I did state I was not a Luddite and in the interests of balance I wish to prove that. A mobile was extremely useful recently when my little boy took ill at school. It would take a while to get there but I was able to contact a friend who was close by the school who kindly helped out. When arrangements are altered at the last moment, illness strikes, transport lets us down and all manner of other circumstances can mean communication is key.
I would never want anyone to feel unvalued by my late response. But my appeal is to keep this technology in its place. Recognise its value and its role but restrain your fingers from constant use and don't let it keep you under its thumb. Use it to arrange to see friends and family and then when you're with them stick the thing on silent (unless there is an actual emergency situation unfolding) and when you phone a really quick, 'Is it ok to talk....?' can be so appreciated. That is the way to make people feel valued. Never forget that human relationships were developing and thriving before bleeps blurted into our lives, let's use the technology to help humankind grow and improve not hinder or hurt.