Worry beads, mobile phones

September 17, 2012

One of the first things I noticed, on my initial day at work at my Muscat office in February 2006, was that a high proportion of our personnel carried worry beads with them. The beads often seemed to be twirled around when I was standing close-by.

As the new 'boss on the block,' I thought this could be a sign that I was causing some distress. “Don’t worry, sir,” I was told, “they are also prayer beads here.” Perhaps their prayers were that I was going to be kind to them, with maybe a pay rise on the way.

I discovered that worry or prayer beads come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: amber, aromatic, coral, horns, bones and glass, to name a few. I even thought of buying some myself, for those moments when I was so worried about something that I needed to pray for inspiration.

I have just realised why I don’t see anywhere near as many worry beads now. Mobile phones, and particularly smart phones, have taken their place.

Just think about what we all see every day as we travel around Muscat. Drivers are waving around both their phones and arms at the same time. Phones are held out in front of mouths, or fiddled with in their mounts on the dashboard.

Once one realises that the mobile phone has now replaced the worry bead, all sorts of other current human behaviour falls into place. Muscat is blessed with many traffic lights, all of which are always red. We stop. What to do? No worry beads are in hand any more.

There is no choice but to fiddle with the phone. Pick it up, send a text, do an instant message, take a photo, check an app, tweet, sign into Facebook, take in a weather forecast, play a tune, or even make a call!

When walking down the street, it now seems to be necessary to have a phone in hand, either pressing the keyboard, or with it pressed to one’s ear. It is no longer a requirement to look where one is going.

At the dinner table, at least one phone per person must be on view to others. It needs to buzz, rattle or roll at least once every five minutes.

One of the things I noticed in Europe this summer was the lack of mobile phones on show. This is not because unemployment is high and earnings low.

The phones are still there, hidden in pockets or handbags, but they are not a top priority: they help life, not dictate it.

I read in last Saturday’s Muscat Daily that a new system of cameras will be installed in Muscat to catch those who cross red lights at junctions. It would be very clever if this process could also catch those drivers who are using their phones at traffic lights like they used worry beads.

This blatant abuse of safety must stop; it is truly getting out of hand. So many lives are needlessly being put at risk.