Up until I was 20, no member of our family had a phone in their house. The first time I lived with a phone where I lived, was in a university hostel. There was a phone in the hallway. But there was a problem. There were nine of us. We had a rudimentary booking system. Queue jumping was common. Time on calls was always limited and calls beyond the metropolitan area had to be paid for and for a student, very costly.
When I graduated, a phone came with the job in a rural town. However, its use was always restricted. I was able to ring freely in an area about 25 kilometers across. Beyond that, the calls attracted tolls which grew steeper in accordance to the distance from my base.
In my early 30’s I had reason to call USA on two occasions. These calls were painfully expensive. Each call was an exercise in brevity. The first mobile phone I encountered was huge and heavy. The base station to which the phone was clipped was about the size of a loaf of bread, but much heavier. The man who owned it had a trucking company. He was very proud of his phone and lugged it with him around town. It was proof that he was a thoroughly modern business executive.
When pocket sized mobile phone arrived, my wife and I viewed them with envy. How we longed to own one of those folding phones, but their price put them out of our reach.
People who did own one of these wonders flashed them on every opportunity. They were the ultimate status symbol.
At this time, I played a trick on my wife at a birthday meal in a restaurant. Imitation mobile phones had become a popular toy for children. Some of these were remarkably realistic. I bought two of them. Part way through the meal, I made an excuse to exit. When I returned, I was holding one of these replica toy phones In a voice loud enough to be heard across the restaurant I said - “It’s for you dear,”and I placed the phone at her ear. My wife had no idea what was going on and intently tried to listen to the toy. Then with a flourish I produced the second toy phone. In a voice louder than necessary I said, “This call is also for you,” and held the second phone to her other ear. Talk about the pinnacle of cool! My lovely wife listening to two mobile phones at once. Our fellow diners were impressed. I still smile. However, there is a price to be paid for such lunacy. I may well have to pay it again when my wife reads this.
About this same time, one of my friends who was a computing whizz, told me that the ‘tech bubble’ was about to burst. Some of the many companies which were emerging would soon fail. “The first to go” he said, “will be Apple!”
His company bought him one of the new, pocket size mobile phones. “It is strictly for work “he told me. “I refuse to take it home with me. I don’t want phone calls intruding into my home life. Do you realise that with these mobile phones people can even call you in the toilet. There no space would be private!”
These days like the rest of us he always has a mobile phone in his pocket. I don’t know if he takes it with him into the toilet.
When Steve Jobs launched the Iphone, I was skeptical. I didn’t believe all the claims he made for it. As for having a personal, personalized assistant, ‘Syrie,” that was surely a gimmick with no value. These days I must admit my phone is much smarter than me. As for Syrie, I talk to her every day. I don’t know what I would do without her.
Now everyone I know has a mobile phone. As well as ceaseless daily chatter, they can talk to friends and relatives around the world for no cost. Banks are closing and Post Offices are disappearing, all because of mobile phones. Who needs a physical address when you can do it all digitally? Well, I must admit, I do. I miss the friendly (most of the time) service and even standing in queues. These days my standing in queues is digital - ‘Please wait for the next available operator,’ then endless cheesy music. Also, “This conversation will be recorded for training purposes.” How much training do they do?
Theoretically, everyone having a mobile phone should have reduced the plague of loneliness. It hasn’t happened. The disconnect between people is greater than ever. I think it makes every face-to-face contact with anyone, wherever it happens, however it happens, more important than ever. I try to smile at people a lot.