iPhones: A Love / Hate Relationship – 28 October 2013


Sat in a Reading coffee shop whilst waiting for an indefinitely delayed train, I ponder the worth of my favourite pocket gadget.

DESTINATION UNKNOWN: Fellow travellers checking the latest updates on the railway network. (IMG_7975)

Remember back in 2012, when the weather was amazing and the Olympics were underway and everyone was just happy to be alive? When I led a spontaneous singalong to Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street as my fellow passengers and I pulled up at the Tube station of the same name. When strangers chatted to each other, not to complain or bicker or argue, but just because we were all enjoying the same high of summer.

Now look at us. Miserable, cold, and glum. Little more than a year on from the Games, and we’re back to our old way: what a shame that that legacy has largely failed to stick.

What put me in a bad mood was the 11:00pm weather forecast yesterday.

“You are advised,” reported the weatherman, “to only make a journey tonight if it is absolutely essential”.

Well, I’m sorry, but surely this is the most ridiculous statement ever. Who wakes up in the middle of the night – rain lashing against the window and the garden bench blown onto its side – and then thinks: “D’y’know, I really fancy a jolly to Dorset.” Nobody. And then there’s the stupidity of this morning’s forecasts, bizarrely telling us what has happened, before telling us what’s happening out of the window right now will remain so for the rest of the morning.

At least Evan Davis on Today made light of the folly: “This is the point when we tell you the weather. It hardly seems necessary on this kind of morning, but it’s been written into the script anyway.”

Anyway, following all advice, I left plenty of time for my train journey to Guilford (it is an “absolutely essential” one, I promise). Driving down to Maidenhead Railway Station, it was hard to miss the path of the storm’s destruction. The odd tree-branch had been dumped at the side of the road by the winds, while leaves were strewn across the footpaths. OK, it wasn’t that bad at all…

The railways, though, had apparently taken a beating. Every train that wasn’t cancelled was delayed for sure – most by at least half-an-hour.

For me, though, I thought it had all worked out quite nicely: I managed to catch an earlier train to Reading, one that was running late and whose new departure time fitted better with my schedule.

As I boarded the 0826 out of Maidenhead, I was actually rather happy. As for everyone else – less so.

Honestly, everyone was sat tuned to their iThings. For a nation supposedly obsessed with discussing the weather, nobody was talking at all. (Actually, that’s a lie: there was one bloke talking. To his girlfriend. On his iPhone.)

It made me rather sad. Even when I politely offered to put a fellow passenger’s bag in the luggage compartment, he just passed it over without saying a word. No “Thank you”. Not even a “Cheers”. What a grumpy sod. He put his headphones on, and no further word was exchanged between us.

I’m beginning to hate our dependence on gadgets for company.

And yet, there’s an irony to everything I’ve just written. It’s this: I’m on my iPhone right now.

Yes, I admit, they’re brilliant things. Already I’ve reworked my travel plans to account for cancelled trains. I used my device to find the phone-number of the place I’m heading, then rang them to warn that I’ll be an hour late. Making hay of my newfound free-time, I used an app to locate the nearest Starbucks, whilst listening to Start The Week on Radio 4, all while receiving (frankly rather morbid) push-updates from BBC News on the latest person to be killed by a falling tree.

It’s amazing.

But so far today, I reckon I’ve probably spoken fewer than fifty words. And make no mistake: it’s not out of choice. It’s because everyone else is guilty of the same crime – we’re all “wired”. That’s quite a poor reflection on society, I think.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn to switch-off once-in-a-while; to take our earphones out and open our mouths. Let’s do it – I think we need to. Because only then will we at last all be able to enjoy a good old-fashioned moan about the weather once again.

Andrew Burdett

Andrew Burdett is a twenty-something from Maidenhead in Berkshire, working for ITV News.