Especially on holiday, people constantly wired to communications devices seem to be the really important ones. Truth is, they are the loneliest.
Virtually alone on holiday
Last week I went on holiday on my own and remembered why I prefer real friends to virtual ones. Unlike my usual cheap-as-chips holidays (think Slovenia, Tenerife and Derbyshire), I had decided to splash out and go with an old friend to a five-star hotel in Cyprus. I didn't want culture or activities or wonderful views. All I wanted was to retreat, hermit-like, from the constant pressure of daily communication - e-mail, Facebook, mobile, Twitter - and spend a quiet few days reading, swimming, sunbathing and having massages. Then my friend, a lawyer, cancelled because of an ongoing case.
Never mind, I thought: a week alone in the lap of luxury is exactly what I need. Now I didn't even have to worry about her BlackBerry interrupting the chilling. The first day was fabulous. I arrived in the afternoon and passed out for an hour on my bed, before heading for the nearest pool before it got dark. This is the life, I thought, steadfastly ignoring the horrible kids splashing around in the adults-only "quiet" pool. I read my book, I swam about, I read a bit more. Lovely. Back to the room for a shower and a change of clothes, and then I drifted serenely towards the Japanese restaurant, an outdoor pavilion on an island surrounded by a pond filled with extremely expensive carp. It seemed like a very grown-up location, and in spite of the families there it was perfectly peaceful. Ah, I thought: a better class of child than I was accustomed to. When I was young, kids were rarely taken to restaurants other than McDonald's or TGI Friday's (for a treat), on the grounds that they might charge around tripping up waiters, throwing prawns at each other and generally annoying the adults. But perhaps, I thought wistfully, if one grows up with a five-star lifestyle one naturally knows how to behave in a five-star eatery.
Then I realised that, apart from a small boy pelting pebbles at the carp, the children were being kept quiet by another method: their iPhones. On one table, each member of a family - mum, dad, brother and sister (both under 10) - was riveted to his or her smart phone, presumably checking their Bebo accounts. It all seemed rather sad. Where was the giggling and the arguing? Why weren't their parents teaching their kids the arts of conversation, social interaction and eating with chopsticks rather than ignoring them in favour of 700 of their closest Facebook friends?
How glad I am, I thought sanctimoniously, that my parents didn't take me to five-star hotels when I was young, and the only portable technology to which they treated my brother and I - a shared Sony Walkman - was more likely to cause arguments and fist fights than zombie-like placidity. But after five days of voluntary solitude, with nothing but 1,200 pages of Ken Follett for company, I would have committed violence to get my hands on one of those iPhones. Who really needs Facebook, you wonder? Only the lonely.