The other day a guest from Germany talked to me about what he found weird riding on subway in Japan. He recalled standing there enveloped in silence: everyone else around him, either alone, or in groups, just played with their phone, without speaking to each other. He said that in Germany, people would probably talk to each other, and even to strangers. (I would imagine in Hong Kong, my hometown, if you talk to a stranger on the subway, you will probably be greeted with a punch on the face, or better, a glare (if you are unusually attractive, you might get a different treatment though).
Mobile phones, along with the Internet and wi-fi, have invaded almost every part of our life, and when we meet with friends, we can no longer expect their full attention. More often than not, people will be multi-tasking, dividing their attention between the real and the virtual world; they will be listening to their friend sitting across them sharing about his skiing trip in Hokkaido while checking their facebook for new updates from other friends or the friend sitting just across them, or picking the most appropriate sticker in reply to an instant message from a friend. The notification function just makes things worse. Every few minutes, or worse, few seconds in the middle of a real-life conversation, you will be distracted by a flash on the screen, tempting you to read what your other friends have to say about the photo of the most delicious pizza that you have just sent them. Are you really listening to what I am saying, I would always wonder.
That is why I find hot spring such a wonderful place to have a nice chat with friends. There you can expect full attention from each other, fair and square, without any interruptions. Your phones, despite flashing with new messages coming in, are in the lockers, safely out of reach. If your friend goes so far as to excuse himself every few minutes to look at his phone, then it is time to consider whether you still want to be friend with this person. What I fear the most is the invention of 100% water-resistant phones. Wen mobile phones begin to invade the hot spring space, it will be not worst nightmare come true. Another safe haven is high up in the mountains when the signal cannot be reached. I still fondly remember the night I spent at a mountain hut in 2,200 m above sea level. Without internet connection, I did have the countless friends to reach out to. Instead, I was spending the night together with 30 odd strangers in the same mountain hut, under the same starry sky. I and a few other guests were standing outside, looking up at the twinkling stars, captivated by their beauty and exchanging words of exclamation from time to time. I knew that at that time I was both physically and mentally present at the space, taking in the beauty around me with my full body and mind.
Sometimes I think it will be great to have a no-mobile phone/internet gathering with friends. This way, we can really have a real and attentive conversation. I even think it might be good to have a no wi-fi day at our guesthouse too, so that guests will be encouraged to talk or hang out with each other. I do not think it will be popular with the guests though. We have grown so used to the Internet that we do not seem to be able to live without it for more than a day, or even a few hours. But I do think we actually can. Sometimes when I go on a trip, I deliberately turn off the Internet so that I can have my senses fully devoted to where I am at the moment. I must say it works surprisingly well for me. Try it when you have a chance!