It's fine to use your mobile at the checkout, and pretty much anywhere else for that matter

You want the UK to win the future? Then let’s not constrict our use of
this generation’s most empowering tools with Victorian ideas of manners

Share
Related Topics

Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in North America can supposedly cause an earthquake in India, it seems that a woman using her mobile in a Sainsbury’s in Crayford can spark a ‘national debate’ on manners and inspire the laying down of a whole new chapter on etiquette.

Broadsheet columnists stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the anonymous checkout worker, regaling us with horrifying accounts of when they too had been spoken to by a person not giving them their undivided attention. The Guardian named her “hero of the week”, while proposing a ban on phones at checkouts. Sandi Toksvig got a deafening cheer on Radio 4 for declaring “I’m so with her on this one.” Thousands, apparently, took to social media to share their disgust. And Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg weighed in on his LBC radio show declaring a “sneaking sympathy” for the unnamed shop assistant. National debates, though, should really have more than one side.

So here goes, I’m putting my hand up, texting in, and saying I unequivocally defend Jo Clarke for using her phone while at the checkout. Sainsbury’s apologised for their employee’s grumpy refusal to serve a paying customer? Too right! While many have said this is about respectful treatment of shop assistants, others have pointed out that supermarkets, in their drive to automate the checkout experience, have done more than anyone to remove the human from the exchange. And if the employee was a crusader for politeness, why the hell was she so damn rude about it? “I will not check your shopping out until you get off your mobile phone,” she supposedly snapped, adding sarcastically when Clarke said she was unaware that Sainsbury’s had such a policy, “you learn something new every day.” Not a hint of a please or thank you.

I might be in the minority here, but I think it’s a fight worth fighting. Some 87 per cent of respondents to a survey on this website answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Is it rude to talk on your phone while at a shop checkout?’. I’d hazard a guess that the kind of people who take part in these click polls are the same kind that clip coupons from magazines, fold them up very neatly and very tightly and slip them away in awkward pockets in their embroidered purses or dog-eared wallets to be retrieved very slowly and very particularly one by one at the checkout. There may be the occasional cry of “drats” when it turns out one won’t be getting BOGOF on the cheddar cheese because they didn’t put their reading glasses on to check the small print, but at least the whole tedious thing happened with complete, undivided attention for the checkout assistant - and the queue forming behind them.

This heel-dragging mentality is a dangerous thing when you start thinking globally. In the US, Blackberries are gripped firmly at all times: speakers will interrupt conferences to answer emails, giving their audience a welcome opportunity to do the same and help the well-oiled hyper-connected machine roll forward. And you’d be mad to think that our business competitors in Singapore and Silicon Valley give two shakes of a Samsung Galaxy about excessive phone usage. You want the UK to win the future? Then let’s not constrict our use of this generation’s most empowering tools with Victorian ideas of manners.

Strange things happen when the warm-ale-and-village-green strand of Britishness mixes with technology. It’s how we end up at ideas like HS2 being best for the country’s future. £10bn for some bloody choo choo trains! When a sizeable proportion of the rural population still has no broadband! But, uh, you know, it will have that added benefit of, uh, reminding us how good we once were.

In one sense, this is a rehash of an age-old conflict between change and conservatism. To take it one step further from the proverbially butterfly wing-flap, in the clamour to condemn Clarke and beatify the anonymous till worker, we see the playback of one of the grandest cosmic dramas of them all. It’s the tick tick tick of time, and the complete, screaming impotence of humans in its face – whipped to fever pitch by the quickening, juvenile-favouring subject matter of technological progress. But the punchline in all this, and the real reason I reckon I’m on the right side, is that time certainly will tell. The Luddites will come to dust, while Wi-Fi and computer chips are here to stay; and you telling me not to use my phone in the checkout queue, while it might hold the country back a bit, ain’t really gonna matter a scratch in the long term, grandma.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

£13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?