Idle Thoughts on Digital Comms

Five minutes to spare and I find myself with pen and paper: son on PC in my office, daughter with the laptop I keep repairing for use as my own back up, and wife’s laptop locked and I can’t be bothered cracking the password. Not that it normally takes me long. I know her mind so well I routinely break into her various password protected accounts in seconds. Not for any nefarious purpose you understand; normally to order pizzas, pay her bills, deal with various procedures she has set up to make my daughter’s life easier, whether she want it to be easier or not.

Usually this is in response to some email or answerphone message, never a text. She knows I don’t do texts. Technically I have about three mobile phones, but I use none of them. All three are/were my daughter’s. Her current iphone or Android, is in my name as are the others. I say are but one is definitely MIA somewhere in the house but undetected for months. One is, I suspect, broken somewhere judging by the innocent look that sweeps over my daughter’s face whenever its whereabouts is mentioned. The last one, which I can see from where I sit, is now defunct, not through any carelessness or ill use but courtesy of the successor to T Mobile. It was my daughter’s but when she upgraded I took it on as it had some money left on its pay as you go account and I am a skinflint.

It was, to her, and the rest of the world a very boring phone. It had two functions: text, and gasp at the thought, telephone, the last use a modern mobile is put to. I used it a few times in those casual non-emergencies that seem important at the time; where was I meeting someone in Cardiff for an International, that sort of thing. And then someone bought T Mobile and I didn’t use the phone for a couple of months. When I tried to use it again, I got a message saying that my phone couldn’t register its account properly and I had emergency access only. I checked my account and found it was still £3.50 to the good. I searched for a way to let the new owners, EE? possibly, that I wanted to be their loyal, if indifferent customer, now T mobile was no more, but of course there was no obvious way of communicating my feelings.

It is an irony of modern life that the most difficult people in the world to contact are communication companies. That should be a warning to us all.

Then, recently, I thought of the £3.50 sitting there doing nothing and decided I wanted to be connected once more to the world of pointless texts, at least to the value owing. I turned the phone on again only to discover that I had progressed from being unable to access my account to my SIM now being declared unrecognisable and void! So I am now the proud possessor of a phone and nothing else. The successor to T Mobile has unilaterally unpersoned my phone. No doubt for my own protection, but this customer care extends enough to invalidate my SIM but not enough to refund the money to the account that paid for the credit.

So, it was only £3.50. Why not just swallow the loss of such a paltry sum and buy a new phone? Because I only want to use it every six months in a middle class simulacrum of an emergency. I have no desire to watch films of cats dressed as Sherlock Holmes posed as if solving a great case. I want a phone. Actually I want my money that I gave someone for a service to be available for use of that service and not taken on a whim because I don’t use it enough for their liking.

In the 90s when mobiles started to become popular I resisted their charms with all my might. At the time I was fairly tech savvy. My job revolved around that sort of stuff and I was online when less than 1% of the world was. As for mobile phones however, I hated the idea of being instantly available. One of the great delights of being out of the office was that you were away from the type of people who spent their time sounding off, explaining how good they were and how immensely important they were. To be connected meant having them ringing at goodness knows what hour just to say did I know they were really important? No thanks.

In my personal life I don’t need the false emergencies of deciding whether we need red or green pesto for dinner in the supermarket.

The fact is that in the 90s nobody really needed a mobile in Britain. The ubiquity of the landline system meant it was a fad to buy into a system that offered very little over the existing infrastructure. Of course you could say that the people who bought in early and helped establish what we have now were visionaries. They are the ones who are responsible for allowing you to pay hundreds of pounds to watch snatches of TV on a 3”screen and surf an attenuated version of the net for that truly on the go shopping experience (isn’t that just shopping?).

Now, of course, so many have bought into the radio phone that people are saying the landline network is threatened. Of course your mobile signal actually spends a lot of its time on landlines once it hits the base stations at the moment. And PCs wifi connection is to a landline hub. Of course the days of the PC may be numbered anyway. We are being weaned off them as I write. The idea anyone would want to sit at a desk and do some work on a home PC is pretty laughable now. In 1995 there wasn’t a lot else to do. Now a home computer is just an expensive part of your multi-environment entertainment complex. God forbid you sit down at a computer and think about anything more complicated than whether to buy from Amazon or Ebay. I have nothing against either shop, but a computer can be so much more.

The promise of a connected intelligent world with access to real knowledge and the ability to widen our experience of other cultures has drowned in a sea of commerce. With the monetisation of everything, all the intellectual work has disappeared behind pay walls impenetrable to the hoi polloi. We are left with virtual shopping malls and trolls. You can still read some good stuff on line if you look very hard! And of course if you are reading this it will have been typed into a computer (undoubtedly a desktop PC) and distributed via the internet to your ‘device’ whatever that may be. Many people won’t read it of course and why should they? But it would be nice to think it was because it doesn’t resonate with them rather than because anything over 140 characters evinces the response: TLDR.
(Too Long Didn’t Read –if you were wondering).

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