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Digital insulation: BT was right, it is good to talk

I recently noticed the lack of expression that crosses my face even when I'm messaging colleagues "lol"

The modern office might seem like an oasis of serenity, but many workers are chuckling away to themselves without even opening their mouths. The gentle clatter of keyboards and clicks of mice aren't purely the by-product of work, it's the hum of feverish online chatting that's quickly replacing the 'water cooler moments' employees used to treasure.

Tube carriages are filled with the harsh tones of death metal mixed with the subtleties of Bach, but you won't hear a peep, because it's being pumped into people's heads over their noise-isolating earphones. No-one talks to each other, because that would just be weird.

Some parents buy their kids too-cool-for-school console games as a replacement for parental interaction. Forget pacifiers, if you've got a hyper-active child getting on your nerves, pop a Nintendo DS in their hands and you'll not hear from them until the battery runs out days later.

It's ironic that generations before us have fought for the right to speak, to express themselves openly, and yet here we all are -- plugged in and completely silent, apart from the odd titter.

You could argue there's never been more human expression, and that the Internet has liberated so many people, and that personal music players mean you can listen to music without bothering anyone else, and that console games keep kids off the streets.

But is this digitally induced silence really golden, if the end result is a society that forgets the nuance of the spoken word and we all turn into selfish idiots? I'm not sure, since I'm a confirmed digital junkie -- I certainly don't mind fiddling with gadgets at the expense of a good conversation.

What I can say with certainty is that being electronically cocooned has presented its fair share of problems. The other day, for example, I almost knocked out a 72-year-old man with a breathing condition, because I had my headphones so severely jammed down my ears that I didn't hear him say "Excuse me" as he got on to my tube carriage.

I recently noticed the lack of expression that crosses my face even when I'm messaging colleagues "lol," supposedly indicating that I'm splitting my sides with laughter -- when instead I'm staring blankly at a screen while I laugh inside. I think I'm turning into a silent idiot.

Talking out loud means you can't hide behind any veils. Digital insulation might feel very cosy, but there's something special about speaking to colleagues while you're making the tea, and I sincerely hope it doesn't disappear.

I don't want complete strangers to walk up to me on the tube early in the morning and start rambling on about their ingrown toenail, but a little more chatter and liveliness might help stimulate some of my dying brain cells -- and I might even laugh out loud instead of just typing it.