Ball and Chain

Old MobilesAlthough I’m a sucker for gizmos and gadgetry, there’s a lot about the Information Age that I dislike and top of the list is the mobile phone which has allowed communication to become instant, constant, incessant and pointlessly intrusive.

I must admit, I didn’t see it coming or I would have done something about it. Not mobile phone technology in general, just me in particular for allowing it to become my master instead of my servant.

My first real encounter with mobile phones came in 1990 on the back of the Gulf War. Hospitals in the UK had been put on stand-by to receive military casualties should the need arise and I had the job of preparing for the inevitable media interest that would follow.

My patch at the time covered a large chunk of the north west – Lancashire and Greater Manchester – and the nominated hospitals were widely scattered and being a gadget fan, it was an opportunity to add mobile phones to our ‘essential’ equipment list.

The thing was, this was in the days when you only rang someone if you had something to say, and not because you have nothing better to do, as now.

As a result, we didn’t use them much. For a start, very few people had mobile phones so all our calls were to landlines which rather defeated the object as more often than not, the person you wanted wasn’t there and you had to leave a message.

Spool forward to 2003 and seconds out, round two of the Gulf War. The military had either got better at damaging people or patching them up when they were hurt because the plans to receive casualties had to be enacted this time round.

Communication technology had also moved on. Mobile phone were now de rigueur, but email was just as important. The powers that be wanted more than just a verbal report and I found myself in the back of an ambulance on the way back from Wigan where we’d dropped off a group of wounded squaddies tapping out a message on my shiny, new Blackberry.

The London Bombing was another test of communications technology. It was found to be far less robust than you might imagine as the mobile networks collapsed in the ensuing chaos.

Two lessons were learned. First, the derided old technology of pagers carried on working well and second, that a mobile fitted with a SIM card from neighbouring European countries also carried on functioning.

The upshot of this was that in the weeks and months of paranoia that followed, I found myself with a Blackberry clipped to one side of my belt, a pager on the other and a separate mobile phone in my pocket.

And mobiles were no longer a useful tool in an emergency, large or small,  but something to use when you had nothing better to do and I became more and more frustrated by the constant calls asking me how I was doing that only interrupted me doing whatever it was I was being asked about.

I’m sure whoever came up with electronic tagging must have got the idea from his mobile phone.

When I finally hung up my Blackberry, I felt utterly liberated and I swore that I would never own a mobile phone again and I’ve kept that promise to myself, at least until now.

I don’t know if time has lessened my antipathy towards the mobile or whether it’s become outweighed by my innate love of gadgetry, but I’ve relented and taken over the iPhone that my daughter discard when she got her new one last year.

And I’ve enjoyed it so far, setting it up to give me the local weather forecast, using it to pick up email, watching YouTube and taking photos. I’ve even created a couple bespoke ringtones for myself.

All I have to remember is not to give anyone the number.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 4th March 2012

    I have a cellphone. No one, except my wife, has the number. It’s off unless I want to use it – to call to say I’ll be late or for an emergency. I do call my sisters if I’m waiting for a bus – they live out of state – but I don’t use it on the bus, because I find it unnecessarily rude.

  • Owl Wood 4th March 2012

    Oh dear, you won’t be interested in my latest invention then. I have devised a portable answering machine. It works on valve technology at the moment and is the size of a breezeblock with a separate shoulder-mounted power-pack but the idea is that you clip your mobile phone into it and it takes messages and prints them out for you when you get home. That way you need never miss an important message. Once we get into production I’m hoping to reduce the size and weight by changing the printing press over from steam power to electricity (with a mains cable and adaptor). The mahogany case may have to be re-thought too.

  • Jennyta 4th March 2012

    Love the picture. Keith tells me he had a mobile phone in the days when they were the size of a large housebrick and you nearly gave yourself a hernia carrying it around.

  • Mr Parrot 4th March 2012

    I look forward to reading more about in the Sunday Times In Gear section. But you have reminded me to perhaps post about fax machines. Anyone remember them?

  • Luddite Pudding 4th March 2012

    Outside homes for the elderly and lunatic asylums, I am possibly the last adult in the developed world to live without a mobile phone. The other day I read that developments in mobile signal technology could mean severe interference with television sets – forcing people to pay for boxes that will combat this interference. I also note the increasing presence of mobile phone masts and ugly service boxes on our streets. And the reason I didn’t get a temporary Christmas job with the Royal Mail is because I didn’t have a mobile phone number to give them. Increasingly, I feel like an alien who has landed on an unfamiliar planet.

  • Mr Parrot 5th March 2012

    You’re right YP. I’ve signed up for a couple of things online that need a confirmation code and the only way they send it is by text which meant I had to borrow someone’s mobile.

  • Jay from The Depp Effect 6th March 2012

    Ah, yes, the mobile phone … we were only saying the other day that perhaps this would be one of the things that would most surprise our ancestors, if they could only pop forward in time and see how we live now. I imagine them staring open-mouthed at many things, but in particular, people walking along with one hand clamped to an ear while they chatter away at full volume, apparently to thin air!

    Me, I do own a mobile phone, but I refuse to become a slave to it. OH and I both got one when we had motorbikes and he felt it might be rather a good wheeze if I were able to call him from the depths of a ditch should I be unwise enough to ride into one. These days, I hardly ever have it with me unless I’m walking the dog (it has the vet’s emergency number in it) or we both go into town and split up. When I read my messages, they’re often days old!

  • Elizabeth 7th March 2012

    I don’t have a mobile phone and have not once found my life seriously curtailed by its non existence. x


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