Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

Ofcom, the body that regulates the communications industry, says that for the first time people in Britain prefer texting or sending emails to each other to talking on the telephone. Telephone use fell by an amazing 5 per cent in 2011, while over 150 billion text messages were sent in the same year, more than double the number four years earlier. This is a dramatic change, but one that nobody seems to have particularly wanted. Young people - those between 16 and 24 - told Ofcom that they would prefer to discuss things with others face to face, but somehow they don't do so; instead, 96 per cent of them communicate daily with friends and family with text messages of one kind or another.

Oldies like myself (I'm 72) have been slower than the young to plunge into the world of electronic communication, but we are rapidly catching up. Ofcom found that the largest increase in internet use was among 65- to 74-year-olds, up 9 per cent in one year (compared with 1.6 per cent in the general population). And once you start texting, it can become addictive. Conversation involves listening as well as talking, whereas texting or emailing enable you to make your point without anyone answering back; and if you subsequently get a reply you don't like, you don't have to respond to it if you don't want to.

Furthermore, the telephone has become less and less pleasant to use. The calls you receive may be from unknown people trying to sell you things, and those you initiate are often greeted by recorded voices that, in the case of companies, offer you a confusing choice of options and hideous musical interludes during your long wait for a reply.

Emails or text messages have come to seem very attractive alternatives. But they are not the most efficient way of making arrangements. To agree to meet someone in a particular place at a particular time can take half a dozen text messages when it could easily have been sorted in a brief telephone call.

But it's rather like owning an electric dishwasher - you feel compelled to use it, even when it would be quicker, cheaper and less troublesome to wash up a couple of dishes by hand.

Paradoxically, the easier it becomes to communicate with anybody anywhere, the more vapid communication becomes. …

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