This Christmas started like any other.
The bone-chilling cold of London in December could not be assuaged by multiple layers of socks and embarrassingly over-sized sweaters that would never see the light of day outside. The sky at 8 am is pitch-black.
Anyway, it's Christmas, and there's the required excuse to crack open the champagne so early in the morning.
The usual drivel on British television that's been repeated since the 1960's buzzes in the background, full of inanely grinning children and men in red suits, punctuated by the occasional politically incorrect joke that television producers now wouldn't be able to get away with.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My mother leaps up in a panic and flies to the kitchen. Furiously, she scrambles to grab her smartphone out of an enormous 'Mary Poppins' handbag. Then, she vanishes in to the conservatory -- breakfast and not-so-guilty champagne consumption forgotten -- to shriek at a work underling.
Then, a new ringtone pierces the air.
"Aleksandr here announces that you are having a message. Simples."
(As a bonus for the American crowd, Aleksandr the Meerkat is an advertising phenomenon in the U.K. For those of us stuck listening to the subsequent ringtones on a daily basis, it has lost some of its novelty.)
Eyes down, her partner becomes absorbed by the latest joke no doubt originally written by someone employed by the mobile network to promote texting among their unwitting customers. He guffaws, the mother unit returned to the sitting room looking irritated, and conversation picked up again.
Instead of the previous discussion concerning Boxing Day plans, it now switched to moaning over the useless technology system at work and punctuated by growls concerning the overloaded mobile network. Conversation forgotten, eventually everyone's eyes slid over to the television.
Now, technology is a wonderful thing. We can access information instantaneously, use it in times of crisis, and medical breakthroughs save lives. The IT industry creates jobs, and for students, online access to resources can make studying less stressful and time-consuming.
If you don't consider the occasions that GPS systems send our vehicles in to ditches or down one-way roads in the wrong direction -- I shudder at the memory -- generally technology can make life easier in respects.
But, as Christmas morning emphasized, we are incredibly reliant on it. Perhaps even some of us are addicted? In the 'month of good cheer' and 'time for the family', we still stand to attention the moment a beep summons us. It's like we're obedient dogs responding to a whistle.
The suspense is a killer. Who text me? Was it important? I have to know. Now.
The moment the phone goes off, our attention is taken away from the present world and we become absorbed with the gadget in our hands. Conversations may resume, but they lose focus and can become awkward. Instead of dealing with the situation at hand, our social skills become immersed in the digital world.
We talk to people at a distance, rather than the ones looking at us expectantly across the table, blissfully unaware that we didn't hear the question.
There's the clincher. Instead of choosing not to listen, we didn't hear it in the first place. Someone posted a new LOLcat on Facebook and I got distracted, sorry.
We even use our gadgets to run from social situations -- citing an urgent need to call someone, or that email that 'can't wait, and must be answered now'.
On saying that, I do admit to faking a call in order to escape an awkward moment in the obligatory, annual drunken family clan gathering. It can be a useful tool, and there's even an app for it.
Being accustomed to having such technology within our grasp has meant that time allocations have changed. Instead of running down the gym or playing football, perhaps more of that time is spent tweeting, on Facebook, or checking the work email 'just to stay on top of things'. We're worried that if we leave the digital environment for an instant, something will go wrong, or something incredibly important will be missed.
With the emergence of smartphones and tablets, do we ever truly 'turn off'?
- Your grammar is terrible. Get off Facebook
- One in four Brits 'regret' buying an iPad: Waste of money, or time wasting tablet?
- One in four Britons own an Android phone