“Ground control to Major Tom…” Must we always be ‘in touch’?


Waiting on a reply to my text to two family members asking them  to tell me at what stage of their (very long) journey home by road from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Surrey they might be, I began to imagine all sorts of terrible reasons why neither had replied. The most reasonable was that they were in a ‘black spot’ (not as frequent an occurrence as it once used to be, particularly since they would be doing a good part of the journey by motorway), or busy driving (well, the one who wasn’t could answer either phone, couldn’t they?) or perhaps having a much-needed kip in a service station (it’s a long old journey and we all know that tiredness can indeed kill). The other, and much less welcome thought, was that perhaps they couldn’t. An accident, perhaps – both of them in hospital. Then I got to thinking…

When I was a child, the closest thing I knew to a mobile phone was Captain Kirk’s communicator on ‘Star Trek’.  Family members wrote (or perhaps you chatted to each other at a phone box) to tell you they would visit on a certain day – or, more often, they didn’t, and would turn up just as you were sitting down to Sunday lunch. Cue profuse apologies, assurances that “there’ll be enough to go around” -even though there probably wasn’t -and fetching of spare chairs, kids banished to eat theirs on their laps or in the kitchen. And no-one worried overmuch if their guests were an hour late (assuming of course that they had written or phoned ahead) or that they might be in trouble somewhere on route.  A puncture or traffic, perhaps; these things happen.  The morbid assumption that perhaps something terrible had happened might come only after several hours had lapsed; but most likely we would assume that ‘something had come up’ and they had not set out, and we would wait for the apologetic letter or phone call. I think it’s fair to say that we lived more ‘in the moment’ than we do now. Or, to be more accurate, than those of us with mobile phones do.

I’m not one of those people who feels the need to ring someone to tell them ‘I’m on the train’ – unless there’s good reason (like they might need to know because they’re coming to collect me from the station). But people do; we’ve all heard them. Perhaps you’re even one of them. (I’m not criticizing, I promise; just making an observation!)  The advent of mobile, personal technology seems to have created a need to always be in contact with each other, or with the ethereal world of the world-wide-web, just in case we might miss something important by five minutes… and it means that personal space has become harder and harder to find. We find ourselves sending messages such as, “Sorry I didn’t reply to your text/email right away – I was caught up in something/on the tube/in a meeting/my phone battery died” or some other euphanism for “actually, I just wanted  a moment to myself”.

I don’t believe we should -or ever could- go backwards. Far from it – I’m as welded to my mobile as much as the next person- but I do sometimes take a step outside myself and wonder, “Do I really need to be worrying about this?”.  And the answer is, no, I probably don’t.

Well, that passed a few minutes – I wonder if I should send another text….?

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