'HELLO? Can’t talk right now!' And I thought mobile rudeness was just a fad...

We now hide behind our phones so that we aren't obliged to greet people, look at waiters or treat anybody like a human being

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The Independent Online

I have total sympathy for the Sainsbury’s checkout worker who refused to serve a customer in Belfast because they were yacking away on a mobile phone.

The customer complained to Sainsbury’s management, who apologised, and basically gave everyone carte blanche to treat their staff like dirt.

Talking away on your mobile phone when a real person is in front of you is incredibly rude and dismissive. God knows being a checkout worker must be bad enough, without having some arse dismiss you as though you weren’t even there so that they can waffle on to their friend about the price of muesli.

This is all a symptom of our increasingly automated world. Every company now uses the money-saving and deeply annoying automated answering systems that take 50 times longer to use than if were you dealing with a human being. These systems alienate you, frustrate you and stress you out. No wonder then that customers see fit to wander into supermarkets and treat staff as if they were insensitive robots. We need to kick our technology habit and get back to some real human interaction.

The UK is particularly bad in this respect. The more I travel the more I have noticed that we use mobile phones more than any other country on earth. What is it that we have to tell each other that is so much more important than for everyone else in the world?

I think the real problem lies in the UK psyche. We are naturally a reserved race and have never been fans of polite chit-chat at the best of times. Whenever I come back from Canada, where strangers acknowledge each other and people talk to you in shops, it takes me about two weeks to kick the habit and return to grunting and ignoring people in public.

This is the British way, and the mobile phone has made it all a lot easier for us. We can now hide behind our phones so that we are not obliged to greet people, look at waiters or treat anybody like a human being. I find myself doing it. I instantly grab my phone and check some non-existent text whenever I think a stranger is about to start communicating.

It’s a crutch that we could do well without. Let’s have a “Leave your mobile phone at home day”. Let’s have one day a year where we all see if we can cope without them. When I did my big mobile phone sketches in Trigger Happy TV 12 years ago, I thought that I was just having a pop at a passing symptom, something that would smooth itself out. If anything we have got worse.

We are a nation addicted to detached conversation. We yabber away into the ether but are afraid to look anybody in the eyes. Somewhere down the line we’ve got our wires all crossed.

Twitter: @domjoly