Recharging my batteries

1st August 2014 at 01:00

I enjoy the summer holidays as much as the next man, but I do worry about how the newfound freedom reveals in me newfound levels of shallowness and hypocrisy. I can normally look back at some life-enriching times in my typical holiday - reading that recommended book, stimulating trips, memorable days with family - but what about all those many hours in between?

Consider my new obsession with my mobile phone. In lessons, I put on a great show of teacher umbrage over instances of below-desk juvenile phone fixation, but this holiday I have become just as desperately addicted. Not in the texting, tweeting or Snapchatting sense. In that arena, I could not begin to compete with our Year 10s Izzie, Fizzie and Tizzie, who haven't actually spoken to each other - in the conventional sense - for about two years now. But I have become just as absurdly infatuated by charging the thing up every night.

I knew things had gone too far when I woke up with the chilling thought - "OMG" - that I had forgotten to plug my phone in. With all the crises facing our world right now, this was the one thought that had disturbed the so-called head of humanities' sleep. It's shameful, I know.

When confessing my addiction to some friends, I was supposedly reassured with comments such as, "Don't worry, we're exactly the same", and a slightly patronising, "Welcome to the 21st century".

Maybe phone charging really is the hallmark of this century - an era when perhaps even sex itself will eventually be replaced by bedtime port-docking, by that supremely joyful moment when we see that the battery symbol is starting to throb and the electrons are pulsing through our device. Perhaps the only gratification to match it nowadays is the breathtaking sight the next morning of the cell image showing a radiant emerald colour from top to bottom.

Another teacher claims an even more thrilling nightly routine, putting on charge not just the household phones, but also the family iPods, iPads, game-controllers, digital radio, camera and remote-controlled toys. His entire house is now overrun with an orgy of discreet late-night couplings behind various seats and sofas. He's hoping to buy one of those multi-socket extensions so that the whole party can gather in one room. This multi-socketed beast will then spread itself across the sitting-room floor like some lascivious Roman emperor surrounded by lovers, all brazenly hooked up to each other.

And decadent Rome is probably the right comparison. Such a trite obsession with charging up communication devices surely suggests that some of us have lost touch with the world. How often do we think about what we can do to help human, as opposed to battery, life? Do many of us care any more? Do we have true passions today, beyond "five grade Cs and above"?

I wonder if any image of modern-day self-centred superficiality is starker than our determination to keep the phone alive, just at a time when so many desperate voices are screaming to get through to us.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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