Monday, 17 February 2014

Losing the Power of Speech?

Some years ago, I sat in a walkway at Blue Water Shopping Centre and watched the crowds pass by. It struck me then how many people seemed to be eating: burgers, chips, ice-creams, cookies; the need to stuff one's face in public was everywhere. And for a while afterwards, I saw the same phenomenon wherever I went: shopping in Oxford Street, strolling through the park, at the seafront; even in our local supermarket, some customers seemed incapable of waiting until check-out before feeding themselves - or their children. 
These days the urge to eat constantly seems to have been replaced by the urge to communicate, or at least keep up to date via emails, texts and social media. Everywhere I look, people are absorbed by their screens, whether phones, tablets or laptops. I'm writing this is a tiny airport lounge (more about that next week, although I'm afraid it involves the dreaded V word). No-one in here is talking to anyone else, apart from the staff. The passengers are checking emails, sending texts, writing reports (and I've written enough of those in the past to know they are rarely read or acted upon), watching the news on soundless TV screens. Hell, I'm writing a blog post; who am I to talk?
During the weekend, we sat in a restaurant in a pretty little city in Northern Italy, enjoying a leisurely lunch and chatting. At the table next to us were a young couple who arrived together and left together, but barely exchanged a word throughout their meal; their eyes rarely left their phone screens long enough to put food in their mouths.
I can't help wondering if future generations will lose the power of speech altogether in favour of written communications - and if so, would that be a good thing for writers?  


  1. Before iphones and ipads, those people would probably have been reading papers or magazines or books, or just staring into space, not talking, anyway!!!! And the couple on the phones - well, they'd probably have just been staring into space, too! I do know what you mean, though - what I find more worrying is the way in which no-one can just SIT anymore, but has to be constantly entertained via one of these contraptions!

    1. Very true Terry. I found myself reaching for Word Mole this morning while I waited for the laptop to shut down and reboot (thanks Microsoft!). But in my defence, I was on my own in the house. :-)

  2. Yes, Elizabeth, these are accurate observations. We see it all around. I agree with Terry too, though, that those people would have been doing things other than talking anyway. Sometimes I think that prior to this technology we used to have more time for thinking e.g. when commuting; or was that more time for boredom (a concept I don't believe in)? A 90 minute bus ride, unable to read for queasiness, was 90 minutes of lost learning time, but good thinking time. Easy access to technology however enables easy access to learning and friends. It is difficult to judge individuals by tiny snippets into their lives, but I agree the use of technology appears pervasive.