Friday, May 31, 2013

Sorry, darling, what was that you said?

Now, I'm not a betting man, and I'm certainly no use when it comes to knowing what stocks and shares to invest in. I once had a meeting with a 'personal banker' in which she carried out an 'investment profile' to see what I might be prepared to sink into the stock market. The outcome was that my investment rating was the lowest risk-averse level it is possible to have.

However, if I was to dabble, I would recommend that we all throw as much money as we can into any concern related to orthopaedics and osteopathy. Because if you were to look around any public space right now - the street, the bank queue, the bus, half-time at the football match - you will doubtless see many around you hunched over their smartphones.

We all do it. There's no point denying it. Any spare minute of idle brain time and out comes the phone to check e-mail, the news headlines, Twitter and Facebook status updates (and boy, does it smart when no one has updated anything for at least 10 minutes!!).

So you can see where I'm going with this tip on orthopaedic business. Trust me, there are so many cases of hunched spine waiting to be treated within the next decade or so, you'll be rolling in it if you invest now. Which is a lot more rolling that those actually undergoing the treatment.

Phones and tablet devices have become a mass means of avoiding the rest of the world. It's no surprise, then, that research by healthcare provider Benenden Health found that millions of people in the UK (yes, an island nation and proud of it) are now so averse to engaging strangers in small talk that one in five can go as long as six months without talking to someone they don't know.

Benenden's research suggests that online communication has taken over, and we are more comfortable communicating via social media and electronic communications than having to talk to the face of someone we don't already know.

That said, for the socially maladjusted the mobile phone has become a lifebelt for those who would prefer to avoid social contact. How often do you share an office lift with someone you partially know who only looks up from their CrackBerry to see themselves out through the doors?

At any given moment, on any given railway platform, people will be hunched over their mobile phones. Perhaps understandable above ground, where there is a signal and, who really wants some stranger offering unsolicited jabber as you wait for the delayed 07.40 to Waterloo?

But on underground trains, the situation is different. Reception is patchy to the point of annoyingly frustrating. That doesn't prevent the smartphone from providing welcome relief from the sweat-inducing challenge of Avoiding Eye Contact On The Tube. 

Londoners and New Yorkers will know this. Indeed, on the London Underground, the golden rule is not to engage in conversation with anyone about anything. When warning posters would, during the IRA bombing campaign in the UK, warn of the dangers of packages and bags left unattended, it was possible for the average London commuter to sit next to one of those cartoon-style bombs, with BOMB written on it and a fuse burning away, and carry on reading the Evening Standard on account of the fact it was "nothing to do with me mate".

Today, with London Underground installing subterranean WiFi throughout the Tube system, commuters will be glued even more tightly to their mobiles and tablets. However, since the WiFi trial started last summer on the Tube during the London Olympics, it has already created its own unique problem: anecdotal evidence from Underground staff suggests that there has been a marked increase in the number of mobile devices being dropped onto the Tube tracks, causing inevitable delays to services as they are retrieved. Yes, I thought of "Mind the App" too.

The Victoria Line is even trialling a loudspeaker announcement: "Please ensure you stand well back from the platform edge when using your mobiles and smartphones" and will be "monitoring its impact over the coming months", which is possibly a poor choice of words. I certainly can't remember an epidemic of newspapers and books being dropped onto Underground rails.

However, it is not just workplaces and Tube stations that phone-assisted social avoidance is prevalent: mobile operator O2 recently announced the results of a mobile phone-use study in which it found the average Briton spends 24 minutes every day browsing the Internet on their phone (more than any other activity), with checking social networks coming in at 16 minutes, listening to music - a measly quarter of an hour, and game-playing 13 minutes - surprisingly, the same amount of time as actually using the phone to make a call. 

More alarming of all is that the O2 Mobile Life 2013 report reveals that Britons now spend more time staring at their smartphones than spending quality time with their partners, with average smartphone use totalling almost two hours a day, a opposed to only 97 minutes with a better half. Knowing of some couples who actually communicate with each other via Facebook - and not necessarily in an exchange of sickening "Honey Bunny" messages - this last factoid doesn't come as a great surprise.

All of which begs the question, has digital social connectivity really improved social connectivity overall, or are we just becoming more embedded in our insular always-on LCD screen lives?

No comments:

Post a Comment