Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Out of touch

Olga and I returned yesterday from a long weekend in Birmingham. That sounds like one of those joke competition prizes doesn't it? "First prize, a week's holiday in Birmingham, second prize two weeks!" But that would be unfair to Britain's second largest city. It was the first time either of us had visited it and I wasn't sure what to expect, but we liked it a lot. It is clean, modern and prosperous and there are entertainments and amusements to suit all tastes.

We went to a ballet at the Hippodrome Theatre, a concert at the Symphony Hall, visited the National Sea Life Centre, the Botanical Gardens, Winterbourne House and Gardens and the art gallery and museum. But on Saturday night the place was heaving with squealing teenage girls wearing clothes so skimpy, despite the near freezing temperatures, that I was concerned for their health. They were there for a concert by someone called Justin Bieber, whom we had never heard of, but who is apparently the current teenage heart-throb.

I didn't take a ham radio. I looked at the APRS map for Birmingham and it appeared to be a bit of an RF desert. The only repeater near enough the centre to be accessible using a handheld was D-Star. So I decided to save a bit of weight and space in my suitcase and give the hobby a break.

I switched off my mobile when we went into the theatre on Friday evening (to avoid the embarrassment of it ringing during the performance) and didn't switch it on again until Monday when we were preparing to leave. That wasn't a deliberate intention to be incommunicado so much as absent mindedness. I didn't miss it, so it never crossed my mind to switch it back on. Having grown up in a house that didn't have a home phone, and having only been persuaded a few years ago that a mobile would be useful "just for emergencies", it has never concerned me that when I am away from home I am out of touch.

But it seems to me that many people can't bear to be disconnected for half an hour, never mind a weekend. On the bus, on the train, walking along the street, even in the theatre during the interval people were staring at the tiny screens held in front of their face. There is a TV advert - I think it's for the iPad - in which, apparently without irony, people are shown clustered round a screen while a fabulous view or famous building goes unnoticed in the background. In the Birmingham Botanical Gardens one woman appeared engrossed in interacting with her Blackberry whenever we saw her, ignoring the plants. Do these people ever switch off? If you are constantly connected, receiving a continual stream of information which you must absorb or respond to, when do you get time to think, to dream, to appreciate the real world around you?

Technology was supposed to be our slave, helping us to do things more easily. But it seems to have become a drug. The technology itself is amazing, but for me the most important feature is the ability to switch it off.


PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hi Julian, very nice written. Most HAM operators today are also staring at their screens to see if there is any interesting DX. Missing the DX that was never spotted....
I actually logged on paper last weekend in the ARRL DX contest.
73, Bas

G4NKX said...

My sister-in-law is one of these "Wired-in", we all went on holiday and she constantly texted during the wait for our flight, and the phone was straight out at the destination, AND on more than one occasion she had two phones on the go, I love to have my phone handy, but when I think of Batteries I switch off.

LY2SS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"Welcome to the machine", how apropos.

Seems we as a society have become nothing more than slaves to the Entertainment Industry. Movies, television, radio, live shows, computers, iPads, iPods, iPhones, mobile phones are just the Machine - Human interfaces, the shackles that bind us to our masters.

Said tongue in check of course but there is a grain truth.

The on/off button on my devices get exercised quite regularly.

cheers, Graham ve3gtc

Anonymous said...

I grew up about 25 miles south of Birmingham and would go there occasionally, but wasn't too fond of it. I understand that in the years since (this was 30 years ago) Birmingham has cleaned up it's act quite a bit. However, all I've seen of it recently is when I visit from the US and end up in a National Express coach in Digbeth coach station - not a particularly salubrious neighbourhood.

As for the manner in which many people are glued to their cellphones/PDA's/iPods etc, I'm in complete agreement with you. Have you noticed how people greet each other on the street less than before, because they're wrapped up in their own virtual world? I find this disconnect from the here and now dispiriting.

When I'm at home, there is often a radio tuned to 7030. I even sleep with it on from time to time, but when outdoors I like to experience my surroundings.

Paul M0PCZ said...

Hi Julian, I was born in Birmingham, but moved away when I was 3 years old, so I don't really class myself as a 'Brummie'.

My fondest memory is that of tuning across the shortwave and medium bands on my grandmothers radiogram and also tuning into the pirate radio stations on the FM band, of which there are lots in Birmingham.

When my Gran passed away, we had to go back for the funeral, I tuned the car stereo and was pleased to still hear these stations, illegal though they are !

Fenris said...

Sorry to have to say Julian that my daughter and her friend were two of the attendees at Justin Bieber's second concert on Saturday. When we collected her we had a chance to see the area (and marvel at the other teenage girls, well we were all young once I suppose) and I have to say that it seemed pretty clean and tidy, very good for an inner city area and certainly far cleaner than I remember London and other cities being in the past.

As for radio, I had a VX-3 with me but had no opportunity to turn it on so I didn't assess the level of activity around the city. If it's anything like other areas though, there will be little to hear, not much V/UHF activity anywhere these days. I could have fired up Echolink on my Android phone, but even that didn't seem to interesting. We sat in a nearby pub for a drink before heading back down south!