WHAT’S that sound? A muffled burst of song, a strangled squawk – no, not the dawn chorus but the mobile phones of pupils at Glenalmond College in Perthshire, trilling, unheard, in their lockers. While they chirrup and tweet, desperate for attention, their owners are at lessons, concentrating far better than before.

Glenalmond imposed a ban on mobiles during the academic day in September. Six months on, teachers detect an increase in concentration during class and greatly enhanced sociability in break-time. As one of the school’s sub-wardens remarked: “Before the ban you could walk into a room in total silence, because everyone was glued to their phones. It became a pleasure to walk into the dining room at lunch time and see 50 pupils actually talking to one another rather than staring at their screens.” Kilgraston, a private school for girls in Bridge of Earn, recently implemented the same policy, with similar findings.

READ MORE: Agenda: Pupils need balance of screen time and healthy activity

There’s no doubt that, in terms of individual happiness, the new-found willingness to chat and make friends is what matters most. Whether or not a sharper focus during school hours will translate into better exam results is yet to be seen, but you don’t need to be a psephologist to predict the likelihood of a direct correlation.

The effect of a clamorous phone on young people’s prospects is probably the subject of a hundred half-written PhDs. Across Europe and North America, teachers and lecturers are inventively trying to mitigate the attritional effect these devices might be having on students’ attention spans.

At a formative age, exam grades and social skills are the foundation on which the rest of a life is built. This is not to say it’s impossible to retake exams, or learn belatedly how to hold a conversation, but the earlier these stepping stones are crossed the better.

It’ll be fascinating to see what comes of Glenalmond’s initiative. In the meantime, I can’t help thinking it’s not just in schools that locking up devices would be beneficial, and not only the young who need weaning or protecting. The compulsive desire constantly to check for missed calls, texts, social media, games, music or whatever else this seductively pocket-sized companion can offer is an addiction.

Adults are every bit as much in thrall as younger generations, fingers twitching like a chain smoker’s in search of a fag whenever their device is beyond reach. Studies on our use of phones show an alarming frequency of touching, swiping and scrolling: around 80 times a day according to some (and considerably more in other surveys, one suggesting more than 2,500).

Touching them has become an uncontrollable reflex that interrupts even the most serious occasions. Bad enough a phone ringing from the casket as it rolls into the furnace, but how much worse when it’s grieving attenders who cannot get through the funeral without a quick check on the football results or snapchat. Who didn’t laugh to hear John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, chastise Andrea Leadsom and one of her colleagues for “fiddling” with their phones during a Commons debate last week? Even in far less exalted offices I’ve seen executives ostentatiously sneak a look during high-powered meetings.

Those who then leave the room to take a call are effectively demonstrating that they are king of the jungle, whereas subordinates must wait until the session is ended.

In the space of two decades, mobiles have infiltrated all but our sleeping hours. I’ve lost count of the talks I’ve attended where some in the audience have skimmed messages or Googled within plain sight of the speaker. When you’re the one giving the speech, seeing a face uplit by a screen is only marginally less distracting than a person snoring in the front row.

Catching somebody tweeting, which some event organisers actively promote, can also be seriously off-putting. Not as irritating, though, as when my husband attended a court case, where his fellow journalists were tweeting every few minutes.

Whenever they did so, they then asked him to fill them in on what the accused or witnesses or judge had said while their attention was distracted.

The issue is not the importance of our phones, but one of control. We should be in charge of them, rather than the other way round. Yet something in these devices panders to a universal need for stimulus and novelty, for any excuse not to think deeply for very long; also, to the primitive fear of being left out.

As a result, these bits of plastic become our masters, demanding unswerving loyalty. In a way that would have been inconceivable in George Orwell’s or Ray Bradbury’s day, this tiny tyrant holds the power to connect us to the rest of the world. If left unattended it threatens to strand us on an island called lonely, or boring, or too old.

I’m waiting for the day when we see the Queen step onto a podium to cut a ribbon, and tuck away her phone before reaching for the scissors. When that hour arrives, we’ll know for certain that we have lost our struggle against the march of the machines.