The Curmudgeon


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Death to Nokia

The communications revolution, like Saturn, devours its children. We have twenty-four hour news channels, but we are not better informed; we are merely informed of the same rubbish twenty-four hours a day. We have instant electronic mail, but we are not better correspondents; we just use txt to disguise the fct wr illtteret. We have the internet, which within a few years will be the exclusive preserve of advertisers, WalMart Interactive, and rich right-wingers who consider the world in desperate need of their thoughts on God, country and sexy weapons systems. And we have mobile telephones, which combine most of the faults of the above-mentioned in a single, palm-sized package.

Mobile telephones are a wonderful device for ensuring immediate and convenient communication; and, in the way of the human race, two things are thereby assured. One, that nothing of the slightest importance is ever communicated over a mobile telephone; and two, that anything that is communicated over a mobile telephone is communicated at considerable inconvenience to any innocent bystanders.

Indeed, the immediacy and convenience of mobile phone dialling has more than once resulted in injury and death to innocent third parties, as drivers blithely tinker away at their text messages while ignoring less immediate and convenient matters such as the occupants of the road in front of them. Perhaps the drivers in question were trying to send warnings; perhaps they had seen a mobile phone advert which told them text messaging was quicker than using the horn or the brakes. Perhaps mobile phones are a scourge and a pestilence and should be seized and trampled underfoot.

Overhearing one side of a mobile phone conversation is among the less entertaining ways to wait for death; every now and again, especially on public transport, it is possible to overhear one side of several mobile phone conversations as several fellow-passengers arrive simultaneously at the ingenious idea of calling someone up to tell them the train is about to enter a tunnel. This is quite an experience. Monosyllables erupt all around like bubbles in boiling mud: "Lo? Me. Yer. Nah. Yer. Right. Yer. Mon trine. Yer. Nah. Wot? Nah. Yer. Wot? Wot? Lo? Lo? Lo..." - this last trailing off as the tunnel enfolds us all - passengers, phones, and the dying, blood-coughing art of conversation - in its merciful blackness.

But before you hear the dialogue, there is something almost worse to be gone through: you have to hear the ring-tone. Mobile telephone ring-tones are a phenomenon in themselves: a cultural virus to rank with emoticons, pop-up advertising and New Labour. They are sold by the batch and offered free with selected electronic goods. They can be cute. They can be funny. They can be businesslike, musical, amusing, thrilling, delightful, discreet, noisy, complicated, up-to-the-minute, hilarious, audible at vast distances and very, very persistent. They can murder any tune you care to name, including several which deserve it and many which do not. I suppose this is merciful in a way, since it would be rather painful to hear a fine piece of music pleasantly rendered, only to have it interrupted with "Lo? Yer. Right. Mon trine," and all the rest; but this small consolation is not quite enough to get one through the day.

It would be gratifying to think that these infernal engines cause cancer and/or can be used as aids to government spying, as has been claimed. If so, then perhaps our successors - the children of this toxic-waste generation which bans smoking in public, is bored with sex, watches Big Brother and thinks Christian fundamentalism is sorta cool - will harness the energy of their rebellious hormones and become the first generation of teenagers in half a century to decrease their household telephone bills.


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