Being without a mobile phone doesn’t take you back to the time before mobiles – it takes you back to the time before telephones. There are almost no public phone boxes. You are as likely to see a gas lamplighter as a phone box outside the centre of cities. A couple of months ago I went for a gentle fishing trip in our Mirror Dinghy. Sea flat, wind light, sun out. A few snaps taken on the phone and a call or two to shore to update on the catch (and evidence emailed: mackerel are very photogenic). Two hours into the voyage and we were in grey stormy sea with wind up and rain pouring down. My trusty iPhone3 and its acute sensitivity to the odd splash were forgotten in a frantic return to the beach. Dead phone. So I’ve left it til the latest upgrade to renew, and its been an eye opening experience to be out of range for a couple of months.
Even nice people don’t like to lend their mobile – it is something like asking a stranger if they have a spare piece of underwear you can borrow. In the early days of wide mobile use it was enough to just grip a 20p piece as you approached someone with an apologetic smile and they’d lend one with a wave. Not so now. Is it that the colonization of everyday life by smartphones is sufficiently advanced that the machines are now a prosthesis of personality and memory – and who would lend either of them to a stranger?
There are some very positive consequences. I’ve been arriving at meetings with time to spare, and, where they are aware of my phoneless state, so do the people I’m meeting. I also find I bundle telephone contact into appropriate parcels within the day. People that need to contact me urgently and who are brimming with initiative discover that landlines are still operational. Also, life is a little calmer. The time credits I’ve earned have been spent getting a good way into Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare, which gives a sense of sixteenth century London as a vivid and communications dense environment (some evidence of creativity too).
The experiment ends this week when I expect to have a working iPhone in my hands again. My third portable telephone. I aim to stick to turning up to meetings early, leaving it in a drawer for days at a time and telling it clearly that its an aid to me not a part of me. You can borrow it if you need to.