There they sat, side by side, sharing a meal and drinks, husband and wife on a night out at the theatre together. Together? Well, physically. Mentally and emotionally? Doubtful, very doubtful. There was total silence between them. Not a look passed from one to the other – not a smile, a frown, a grimace, or even a wink. Their attention was focussed elsewhere. Eyes were directed downwards and firmly fixed on their iPhones. And they remained steadfastly posed that way for at least the fifteen minutes I sat alongside them.
Sadly, so very sadly, such scenes have become the fabric of daily life. And they underscore one of the most blatant misuses of the English language among the hundreds that already exist in daily usage. The above-mentioned couple were, of course, engaged in what is described as social networking. They were using a so-called social network.
What the bloody hell is the slightest bit social about going out for the evening with your presumably nearest and dearest and then spending most of the time totally engaged with third parties?
Yet this seems to be the norm. Study the scene at cafes, restaurants, bars or out there on the street and you will see couples, triples, even whole groups of people, in company with each other yet fixated on others who are merely a presence in cyberspace.
Social networking be damned. It is as anti-social as it is possible to be. It is reminiscent of Princess Di who tragically bemoaned the fact that “there are three people in this marriage”, the third party being an unseen presence who provided a constant distraction to the person supposedly devoting his time and attention to her.
And when these phonophiles are not busily ignoring the people they are supposedly with, they are paying even less attention to the world around them. They have become a mobile (in both senses) hazard far worse than skateboarders, cyclists, mums with buggies, Zimmer-frame users and all the other obstacles pedestrians have to cope with. They are as unyielding as light poles, signposts and litter bins. They emanate messages of “make way” and “let me through.” The importance of their conversation – even if it is only vapid chat about last night’s TV or a check on if the fridge has run out of beer – takes precedence. They’ll brook no detours, delays or interruptions.
If smokers can be stopped from fouling the air we breathe surely we can control these thoughtless invaders of our walking space. Perhaps, akin to designated smoking areas, there could be talking zones where you can chat away for all you’re worth. But there is to be no talking while walking.
As for the morons using a phone while “socialising” with others, the best course is simply to get up and leave them to their own devices, as it were. Clearly they live in some other universe.