Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Technology - friend or foe?

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Are you a master or a slave to technology?
Photo / Thinkstock
Are you a master or a slave to technology? Photo / Thinkstock

Mobile phones are almost everywhere but one place they most definitely are not is on Singapore Airlines' long-haul flights such SQ282 that recently jetted me towards my Easter break in Malaysia. The serenity on the aircraft was palpable. No ironic ringtones. No being forced to overhear one side of a conversation. No annoying clicking as some attention-seeker typed a message. I received no emails, no texts and I didn't have to obsessively trawl news websites on my iPhone to stay abreast of current affairs. It was blissful.

After dinner I settled in to watch the recently released Polanski film Carnage, a theatre-style talk-fest involving four actors set inside an apartment in real time. If the vase of tulips is the notional fifth character then the corporate lawyer's mobile telephone is surely the sixth. This character spends much of the 80-minutes talking on his phone as he handles an emerging PR crisis. "What's happening somewhere else always seems more important," says his wife (played by Kate Winslet) before she drops his phone into the vase of flowers.

I think this film made me hyperaware of people with mobile phone attachment issues. One of the guests at our resort in Malaysia was a man from the UK who was permanently talking on the phone while his patient wife, displaying the "unconditional surrender" Winslet's character spoke of in the film, watched their children in the pool. My girlfriend and I were horrified. "He thinks he's on holiday with his family but he may as well not even be here," we said. We decided it was a technological form of presentee-ism; he was physically present but mentally elsewhere.

Yet my own phone came in handy when a tsunami alert was issued for Indian Ocean countries following an earthquake near Indonesia. A succinct text message from my husband in New Zealand - "Tsunami warning in Malaysia!!!!" - at 5.43pm local time was followed just seconds later by a telephone call from a Singapore-based friend.
I immediately visited the resort's reception desk where I discovered that the beach and lower pool had been closed as a precaution, and that the main building where we slept and dined was so high in Langkawi's rainforest that we were safe from any potential tsunami.

In order to avoid $10 per MB charges I'd turned off my iPhone's roaming function upon arrival in Malaysia but I switched it on again so I could keep up-to-date with the tsunami alert. I checked the NZ Herald website frequently and shortly received a text from Vodafone New Zealand: "Hi, you have incurred roaming charges which we would like to discuss with you ..." I'm not looking forward to my next bill.

A typewritten personalised note from hotel management assuring guests the situation was under control was delivered to our rooms sometime after 9pm. It seemed a quaint and glacially-moving form of communication compared with the immediacy of information derived from my iPhone.

Simultaneously our friend and our foe, this technology is here to stay. It's up to us to institute rules about its usage to ensure we are its masters rather than its slaves. I've decided that when my daughter eventually has a phone (or a computer) she won't be allowed to use it in her bedroom so that she won't become a victim of cyber-bullying while we think she's tucked up safely in bed. And children that visit will be required to temporarily surrender their phones since I can't guarantee their safety in my home if they're free to communicate with unknown third parties.

I'm also thinking that at home, in the interests of avoiding presentee-ism, we adults ought to be disciplined enough to keep our iPhones upstairs in the office so that we're properly engaged with family life rather than distracted by the constant allure of our handheld technology.

What are your thoughts? How do you manage technology in your household?

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