How did we ever live without mobile phones and the internet?
Guest blog by Daniel Agnew
We chatted in bars without scanning Facebook, wrote letters, postcards and called people on rotary dial telephones. This involved remembering other people’s numbers and maintaining a handwritten phone book. Unless you had no friends or family, in which case the only numbers you might ever require could be retrieved from the Yellow Pages. On the rare occasion you encountered someone with a ‘mobile phone’ he was dismissed as a poser.
I’m writing this guest blog from the perspective of a digital immigrant (pushing on 33) and I can remember the late twentieth century extremely well. Like everyone else, I now spend alarming chunks of my day on the internet, and yet I feel increasingly estranged because I often leave the house without my smartphone. No one can contact me, just as they couldn’t in 1998. For a few hours, I am unable to refresh my emails, write status updates or tweet. It’s fucking brilliant.
Much to the chagrin of former girlfriends, flatmates and British Gas, I regularly pile up missed calls and text messages. Sometimes I return home to a few battery percentage points and nothing more, which serves only to provide greater justification for abandoning society. With the social expectations of instant connectivity, my smartphone abandonment has provoked the usual sentiments: What if someone died?, You are so selfish and my personal favourite Why are you ignoring me?
Since we expect everyone to be instantly available, having ‘no reception’ won’t carry much weight if your flatmate’s sister is kidnapped by al-Shabab. Of course, you could just claim that your battery has died. Mine frequently does. But soon enough new technology will eliminate my favourite excuse and then our current way of life will appear as quaint as a quill pen in Downton Abbey.
In this digital world of terrifying transparency, we no longer have time to wait. We’ve all received Facebook messages where we don’t want the sender to know we’ve read it. But then the telltale notification flashes message read 00:49AM, forcing you to reply. STRAIGHT AWAY. Smartphone etiquette insists your data light is always green and just like What’s App you must reply in two ticks. In the 1990s you could wait a few days before replying to an email. Handwritten letters would take months before a corresponding envelope was licked and sealed. Postcards were lucky to arrive at their stamped destination and that required bringing an address book on holiday.
From what I can recall, I survived pretty comfortably without the aid of a mobile device. But these are different times, when there is a niggling social pressure guilt-tripping you into being available all the time. Whether you preceded the internet or were simply born into it, new social forces have mobilised like the underwater cables that bind us together. So hell mend anyone who dares to disappear for a few hours without a phone. If someone were to die, we’d be the last to know.
In the information era, that would be truly tragic.