Switching off the mobile
Could you live without your mobile? For most, keeping up with technology is a way of life, but modern-day Luddites are tuning out and dropping off the electronic merry-go-round.
Josh Morris still remembers the day he bumped into two friends
on the street and started chatting, when one of their mobiles
started ringing. As his friend paused mid-sentence to answer it,
his other friend's mobile trilled. Both men immediately suspended
the conversation to answer their calls. It was, says the
28-year-old, disconcerting. "Obviously the mobile conversations
took precedence over ours!" he says with a laugh.
Morris, who doesn't own a mobile, found himself "standing there, in the gutter, alone". The Sydney-based graphic designer calls it a lesson in the power of "the pocket bosses".
Ever since mobile phones stopped being a brick in the back of a foreman's shorts and became a "must-have" item for nearly every Australian, our lives have not only become dependent on these gadgets but also increasingly dominated by them. Like a diminutive dictator, the mobile - and its email cousin, the PDA - drives our day, our ways, our conversations and our communications.
More than 3.3 billion people - roughly half the world's population - now own a mobile phone, according to Reuters. Over the past decade, global mobile phone use has quadrupled. In Australia, the number now exceeds the population, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), with more than 22 million mobiles in use - a 7.6 per cent increase from 19.76 million in 2006.
A 2006 survey by the Queensland University of Technology found
that the average Australian now spends an hour or more a day on a
But not everyone is happy about these omnipresent autocrats. In fact, some are taking a stance. Modern mavericks like Josh Morris are refusing to own a mobile and, in some cases, even connect to the internet. "It's far more enjoyable to not have contact with the world at times," says Morris. "People haven't realised that mobiles and emails dominate our society so much that we're being held hostage by them. They've become so intrusive in our social spaces that they're having an adverse effect on our interactions and on our manners. People get on their mobiles and talk about their sex lives, their non-sex lives - and that's just in two train stops!"
Morris offers the example of a prominent executive he spotted talking on a phone while ordering his coffee. "The barista had to ask if it was 'takeaway
or have here' three times. When the coffee finally arrived, the executive barely registered it, let alone said 'thank you' to the guy. People have forgotten the fulfilment of face-to-face conversation; the reward of looking someone in the eye. They will even try to text at the same time as they're talking to you. People think they can multitask, but there's no way you can text and chat to someone at the same time."
Allan Cederlund is also taking a stance against technology. The 46-year-old stock market investor from Upwey in Melbourne, who runs a handyman business on the side, gave up his mobile when he found it was intruding on his private time too much. Like Morris, he doesn't feel the loss of calls - he's available to clients and contacts via landline or email.
"We're always on mobiles or emails now, even for personal conversations," he says, justifying his decision. "We no longer connect with family and friends on a face-to-face level. People think they're connecting through technology, but in fact it's isolating. You can't have a 'real' conversation via a screen. It's not a meaningful exchange."
Matt Balkwell agrees. The 48-year-old Sydney imaging specialist
works with technology, manipulating photographs, but has turned
away from mobiles. "I prefer old-fashioned conversations. I'd
rather talk to someone face-to-face," he says. Balkwell has a
mobile but rarely uses it, and has never texted in his life. Like
the others, he has acquiesced to email for work purposes.
Balkwell's daughter, on the other hand, refuses to use anything but
her mobile or email - an attitude that amuses and aggravates him.
"Teenagers like being private, that's understandable, but they
spend so long on mobiles and computers that they're losing their
Cederlund concurs. He argues that emails and mobiles are not only antisocial, but are also having a profound impact on our overall well-being. "They interrupt our sleep, our work, our productivity, our free time," he says. "They're handicapping us."
In a nationwide survey last year, the Australian Psychological Society found email and inconsiderate mobile phone use is creating more stress than the classic irritants of barking dogs and tooting traffic. Much of this stress, it could be argued, is work-related. A survey in The Australian Financial Review found that most top executives spend up to two hours a day just dealing with their email in-box (CEOs receive up to 200 emails a day).
It's not just professionals who are tied to technology.
According to an ACMA communications report, there were 6.43 million
internet subscribers in 2007, many of them children. Of these, it
was users aged 15 to 17 years who spent up to two-and-a-half hours
online, on average, every day. The internet has well and truly
caught up with TV viewing.
Some of these teenagers, however, are doing a "Ctrl-Alt-Del" on technology and choosing a different kind of communication. Katherine Sarna-Wetton, a 17-year-old from Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast, has so far resisted getting a mobile and instead focused her efforts on writing - stories that is, not texts or emails. Her anti-SMS efforts have paid off.
In September last year, the then year 12 student was named The Sydney Morning Herald's Young Writer of the Year for a story called, ironically, "Wired".
"I've always preferred books to mobiles," she says. "I think texts and emails can cause you to become lazy with language. Your punctuation and writing skills suffer. In our year 11 exams, the teacher complained that students weren't even using capitals at the start of sentences."
Sarna-Wetton believes hiding behind a mobile or computer can severely hinder your socialisation skills. "Some kids I know spend up to two hours on [social networking site] MySpace, but it's a different life on there. It's a virtual reality where you can adopt an alter ego; it's not real." She argues her life hasn't suffered from eschewing mobiles, but rather, benefited.
"I still catch up with people," says Sarna-Wetton.
"I just do it in person. It's a lot more satisfying."
Josh Morris applauds her decision to say no to mobiles. "I like to think my communication skills are stronger without a mobile," he says. Allan Cederlund, meanwhile, has been so happy with his decision to go without a mobile that he is now considering closing down his email, too. "My day is much more peaceful and productive," he marvels. "Is this what it was like before these things took over our world?"
Each of these modern-day Luddites says their actions have been
applauded by friends, but they also admit their stance may not last
As the writer George Dyson warned in his book Darwin Among The Machines: "In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines."