I was sitting in a restaurant the other evening when I heard a lady behind me ask her daughter, 'why do you have to sit there with your mobile phone in one hand?' And the reply, in that slightly whiny, questioning way that teenagers have, was 'I need to take a photograph of my dinner?' Ah, yes of course.
Well, we've all been guilty of that, but it reminded me of an interview with a teenager I heard on the radio the other day about Facebook releasing personal information. She said two incidental things that struck me - firstly that she spends a large amount of her online time managing her relationships with 'friends' she has never met. Well, we all do that too. But she made the point that a chance, ill-considered remark could ruin her relationships in a flash, so she has to devote time to picking words and phrases judicially. Actual friends of hers who didn't take such care have been devastated by the transformation of peaceful exchanges into battlegrounds. And it is not just one or two 'friends' who turn - the hostility quickly snowballs into hate campaigns from anywhere on the website with distressing results. I hadn't viewed social networking sites as quite such a minefield before. It makes one think seriously before embarking on a new one.
The interviewee therefore makes sure she never ignores any online friend and also that she responds appropriately. So much so in fact, that she has to interrupt interaction with friends she is with in order to manage the online relationship. I can see how this would happen. And of course you don't have the benefit of facial expression and tone of voice to add meaning to your words. But the natural conclusion is that the online friendship is more important than the real one.
But then she said something quite extraordinary. Her friends understand when she ignores them to attend to her mobile device; they are likely to do the same. 'And anyway', she added. 'We have already sent each other tweets about how we felt this morning and what we had for breakfast, so we don't really have anything to talk about.'
So it seems that, far from bringing us all into happy contact with each other and improving our comfortable interaction, the Internet has trivialised and hollowed out our relationships and given us instead a compulsive Russian roulette of a lifestyle with all the anxiety and insecurity we used to have only in the playground, but without the physical contact.
Actually, it hasn't done that for me. I value the online friends I have, but, unfashionably, I don't take the online friends with me when I meet my real friends. I manage the real friendships as carefully as I can and also try to meet up when I have something to say, rather than sending a text and then meeting with nothing left of importance to talk about. But clearly I am now past the young fogey stage.
But I also wonder, if meeting up with friends has become so unnecessary, whether texting and tweeting and online ineraction won't lead to more isolation and alienation. There must also be the danger that, with online relationships taking over, we wish more and more to meet up with strangers we have met online, without really knowing who or what they are. Young people remain remarkably indiscreet online and the trend for selfies has probably increased that. The girl in the interview saw no problem incidentally with Facebook releasing her personal details.
Anyway you are all lovely. Honest. Yes, even you.