Why I’m supporting the pub blocking mobile phone signals to encourage face-to-face conversation

Drinkers will be allowed back indoors in pubs.

Drinkers will be allowed back indoors in pubs. - Credit: PA

How many times have we sat around a table in a bar and a restaurant and commented on the diners or drinkers on nearby tables engrossed in the content of mobile phones?

The conversation usually goes along the lines of how did we ever manage before the advent of mobile phones, with the discussion focusing on how it stifles conversation or any social interaction in the pub, restaurant and coffee shop?

We are suggesting that permitting such technology in a social environment is a retrograde step.

Then, the moment our own phone chirps in front of us with a text, Twitter or Facebook notification or even a call, we instinctively pick it up and over-ride any other conversation around us without a second thought.

It is as though we have become conditioned – within a very short space of time – to behave in such a way.

Whatever our thoughts and views, we are wed to our mobiles and always will be.

One UK bar, however, is fighting back.

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The Gin Tub bar in Hove has blocked the mobile signal on its premises in an attempt to encourage people to be more sociable.

It is the idea of landlord Steve Tyler who has built a type of 'Faraday cage' around his bar with the intention of blocking mobile phone signals to encourage face-to-face conversation.

The solution is very basic, almost Heath Robinson in approach, with silver foil in the walls and copper wire mesh in the ceiling but it does appear to be effective in blocking phone signals and stimulating conversation.

'I want people to socialise with the people they are with, rather than the people they are not with,' said Steve.

How true that statement is because whether we admit it or not, we do tend to give priority to people who are away from us, rather than those sat beside us, simply because the technology in our hand enables us to do so.

'I took the bold decision by not blocking the signal with a jammer but doing as best as I could with a Faraday cage and make people talk to each other, and to be honest it has worked very well,' added Steve.

This is the way pubs, bars and restaurants should be going if their clientele demands it.

Some bars or coffee shops, of course, thrive on the technology by offering a remote and portable working environment for mobile workers, which is fine.

But others do want to go out for a drink, a cuppa or a meal, without hearing someone shout down a phone, 'Yeah, I'm in the pub,' and then hold a full flow conversation oblivious to surrounding drinkers.

This is not about being anti-technology or old-fashioned because the mobile phone has made an incredible, and irreversible, step in the way we all lead our lives.

It has dramatically advanced the way we contact one another, the way we do business, and network, but what The Gin Tub and its clientele is saying quite clearly and quite rightly is that there is a 'time and a place' for mobile technology, and their bar isn't that place.

The landlord is planning to have a mobile phone area outside the bar similar to other pubs which have a designated smoking area.

Personally, I think pubs should be allowed to pander to the market that they think will ensure their survival.

While I'm certainly not advocating any return to smoking in public places, I also believe it would not even have been unreasonable to grant some pubs a 'smoking' licence.

Smokers could congregate in 'smoke-friendly bars' and enjoy their vice, however unhealthy it may be, as in the past.

Non-smokers would not go to such pubs and also non-smoking staff would not seek work there either, in the same way that someone who could not put down their mobile for a minute would not go to The Gin Tub.

Controversial, perhaps, but it would mean the end of the unsightly row of smokers outside pubs, restaurants and coffee houses and non-smokers having to walk through this gauntlet of secondhand smoke.

As for Steve Tyler's plan, it sounds a very positive experiment and one that, far from losing customers, is attracting a new clientele who want to have a drink and chat without their conversation being interrupted by the tring, chirrup or intrusion of a mobile phone.

Good luck to him and his customers and it would be interesting to see how many other establishments follow his lead.

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