Mobiles no substitute for the human touch

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am

A decade ago, mobile phones were still something of a novelty in Hong Kong. Now we each have 1.52, more than anywhere else in the world, and there is no sign that our desire is abating.

That 7 million people have 10.6 million mobiles is mind-boggling. Our population figure includes babies and infants, after all, so the average ownership is closer to two per person.

We now have so many phones that, as we report today, telecommunications authorities are considering combining landline and mobile numbers to stave off the need to increase local numbers to nine digits. Doing so would also spur competition between landline and mobile operators.

We would benefit through lower charges and being able to choose the least expensive service. Technical issues would first need to be resolved. But the benefits to consumers are clear, and opening up the telecommunications market in this way is an idea that, if feasible, should be promptly implemented.

Given that business drives Hong Kong, there is good reason for us to be so well connected electronically. Our children and parents are also important to us, so they benefit from having mobiles so we can easily and quickly communicate with them.

Further explaining our hunger for mobiles is a willingness to embrace new technology and put it to innovative uses. Mobiles are also fashion accessories and status symbols.

For all our needs, wants and desires, though, phones are no substitute for face-to-face communication. While a community is built and strengthened through people communicating with one another, personal interaction is as important an element.

Phoning or texting a friend or work colleague when time is short has its advantages. But being heard and not seen must not be a substitute for knocking on a neighbour's door, walking to the other side of the office or even going to another part of the city.

Technology has made our lives easier and more comfortable. But to use it as an excuse for neglecting genuine human contact misses the point of what communicating is really about.