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Mobile Reliant. Or How I learned to stop worrying and love the payphone!
07/15/2006 - Previous | Next | Issues Home
Emily Sims -- Mobile phones give us the convenience to operate in real time -- sending and receiving information continuously. But this can also mean speeding up life, leaving us less time to just relax and wait.

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I'm waiting for a friend to pick me up. There are nine people coming for dinner and I'm cooking. Our whole evening depends on my hasty retrieval from the train station, and I've forgotten my mobile phone.

I was standing on the platform, fumbling for it in my bag, when I realised my phone was absent. I had told my friend that I'd call her when I arrived at the station. Unsettled, but not yet disturbed, I located the nearest payphone and picked up the receiver.

It was then it dawned on me: I didn't know the number. The number was in my mobile phone! So, now I am sitting outside the station wondering why I didn't specify a time or place to be picked up. I watch other commuters rushing out of the station. I envy them their good memories and handheld gadgets. "Hi, mate. Yeah I'm at the station. Where are you?" a man declares to the other half of the conversation, instantaneously cementing his plans.

I go to the payphone and call my boyfriend, I've been sensible enough to write a few numbers in an archaic pocket address book. His mobile is switched off. I leave a message asking him to tell my friend that I'm waiting at the station. I pray that he gets it and -- heaven forbid -- his battery isn't flat. I wait. Waiting, I seem to recall a distant time when there were no mobile phones. What did we do? How did we live without them? Have we become dependent upon mobiles?

In 2000, Anthony Townsend speculated that people were becoming "dependent upon the connectivity that the mobile telephone represents".

Prior to mobile phones, schedules dictated the movements of the people who adhered to them. Punctuality was critical. If you arranged to meet a friend at 6:00 p.m. then you had to be there, or stand them up. Mobile phones allow you to call your friend at 5:50 p.m. and renegotiate. "Information can be updated in real-time, negating the need to plan anything". Many people, Townsend argues, have grown accustomed to "the flexibility of scheduling and the freedom from punctuality permitted by the constant ability to update other parties as to your status." Once your life includes the constant connectivity provided by a mobile, it is almost impossible to disconnect.

Recent surveys in Britain and Korea support a finding of mobile phone dependency among mobile users. Two-thirds of the Brits surveyed by Lloyds TSB felt concerned if they left their mobiles at home, some said they felt "freaked out and panicky." Marketing Insight found Korean users to be extremely dependent upon mobiles; over half the respondents feel insecure when their mobile battery runs flat.

In the U.S there is concern that dependency upon mobile phones may undermine self-reliance and self-esteem. Psychologist Joseph Tecce told the Sacramento Bee, "leaning heavily on cell phones for advice or psychological nurturance is effective in reducing anxiety in the short term...but a problem might arise without mobile phone, and then helplessness rules the hour."

This brings us back to my current dilemma. I'm still waiting at the train station, totally absorbed in conceiving this article. It occurs to me that being "disconnected" has forced me to just stay still. In this situation there is nothing for me to do: no emails to check, nobody to talk to, nothing to read. I can only relax and wait. The convenience of the mobile phone is the ability to operate in real time -- sending and receiving information continuously. The downfall is that when we operate in real time the speed of life increases, giving us less time to just relax and wait.

Emily Sims is the doyenne of cool ringtones. She has written many articles on ringtone culture, and knows the difference between a polyphonic ringtone and a wallpaper. I mean, who doesn't. Visit here at foovely. She also keeps a popular blog.

© 2006 Emily Sims

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