I remember when I got my first phone – The year was 1998 and the phone was a blue Nokia 3210 from Orange (now EE). It was on special offer for £79.99 PAYG. It was heavy and indestructable, with a small screen and a green backlight. The battery lasted almost a week. There were no apps as such. There was no headphone jack because there was no space to store music. Hands free had not been invented. There was no internet/ wifi, because wifi had only just been invented the year before, no touchscreen, no predictive text because you couldn’t type fast enough to make mistakes when to write ‘hello’ you had to press ‘4433555555666’, and with a 160 character limit per text and 12p per text you’d better damn well say what you needed to in one text if £5 credit had to last you a month (hence the dawn of txt spk).
I felt the height of technological sophistication sat on the school bench in my lunch hour chasing a dot around my screen.
It was a great phone which I had until 2003 when I got the Samsung v200 with a colour screen and a camera built in. Phones were hyped in the same way Playstations were hyped: Each new release was a cool new development in tech, but nobody really cared if you bought into it or not, because it did the same thing as the one you already had more or less. Mobile phones back in the late 90s and early 2000s for kids my age were novelties rather than utilities. We wanted them because they were the gadget to have to be cool, and used them to text our friends under the table about how bored we were in maths class, play snake on our lunch hour or compare how many boys numbers we had in our contacts list. Our parents wanted us to have them so they could make sure we were safe. If I was late home by 10 minutes my mum would call me to make sure I hadn’t been kidnapped.
Cut to 2017
I have an iphone 6 with 64gb memory. The battery lasts less than half a day. It would have been over £600, but I got it via a computing scheme at my last job for £300. It is three years old, has had the battery replaced twice, the screen replaced once, and the handset replaced once because apple broke it when they tried to replace the battery the second time. Already I am supposed to feel as though it is obsolete. The latest release from Apple is the Iphone X which is retailing at £1000. Which is roughly the same price my Macbook pro was three years ago, and roughly the same as a months rent in my old flat in super-fancy Holland Park in West London.
My obsolete, unfashionable iphone does pretty much the same thing as the iphone X: it has a forward facing camera I rarely use, a selfie camera I never use, it can take screenshots, it can call people, send texts, browse the web and access social media. I am in no hurry to update, and I will buy a new one when this one dies. I will probably buy the oldest model of iphone available when this one dies, because am I hell forking out a months rent to text people and use instagram. I don’t even particularly want an iphone, but I have apple everything else and when they interconnect it kind of makes sense when I am too lazy to manually input a bunch of contacts. I am not out of touch, I just no longer give a shit about keeping up with (expensive) trends which don’t do anything wildly different or dramatically impact the way I use technology.
Whatsapp was revolutionary when it first came out because I could send picture messages for free, do group chat and text my friends for free. Which was great! … then the phone companies gave us unlimited messages and internet time and the world of communication became our oyster and the apps market exploded.
I had messages on my facebook wall and messages in the facebook messaging app, messages on imessage and messages on whatsapp. I had to have Slack for work, and Skype, and Gmail’s instant messaging thing, oh, and Trello. Then I got into Instagram, where people leave you messages underneath your pictures and which also has an inbuilt messaging system*, and then there’s twitter and facetime and facebook’s version of facetime, and lets not forget about dating apps.
Although you have probably reached saturation point and run out of screen space by this time, you still have Instagram encouraging you to do ‘stories’ on top of posts, and people pestering you to download snapchat so they can send you videos of themselves pulling faces overlaid with digital bunny ears, and trying to convince you that your life will somehow be complete if you download Pokemon Go and spend your free time walking around with your face glued to your phone hunting down things that don’t even exist, and chatting to other players (of course, the game has its own messaging platform too) about how, unsurprisingly, you can’t find the things that don’t exist.
You end up with a phone – a single communication device to connect you with another human being, pulling you in 100 directions at once.
Techno boffins are on enormous salaries at places like apple scratching their brains figuring out how to make apps to make things work better, sleep deprived designers replace their blood with artisanal coffee making the things that work better also look better, and when marketing people are not talking about their cats, they’re harping on about how having these apps in your life will make it simpler, more popular, more successful, more productive and better – encouraging us to buy into products, subscriptions and systems that are the very things responsible for making our lives overcomplicated in the first place.
Ok so it’s not all bad. I haven’t got lost on public transport once since downloading citymapper. Being able to sign into ‘find my iphone’ and make my phone beep until I find it down the back of the bed has been useful more than once, and Instagram has helped me connect with like-minded people I would never have met otherwise…
But I really don’t get this ‘need’ to be communicated with at all times at all costs over many different apps. And the pressure to download umpteen apps to talk to the same handful of people simultaneously boggles my mind and pisses me off.
Last year, after realising I talked to my best friend in 9 different places on my phone I did a purge of my messaging apps. I only kept the ios one.
After not speaking to each other for the best part of a year, an old colleague sent me a text saying it would be great to catch up, and we should use sgnl.link to chat…
Firstly, what the hell is sgn.link?! Secondly, what is wrong with continuing to message me on the thing you just messaged me on?… the default messenger you don’t have to create an account for because it comes with your phone number…
Two years after deleting Whatsapp, one of my friends is still pissed off with me because I got rid of it. Why? Because it does group texts and sends pictures free over wifi … just like every messaging app out there. This is someone I exchange maybe 3 texts a year with. I’m sure taking 3 texts out of her yearly allowance to message me isn’t going to kill her, and neither is sending me a media message (which, incidentally, she hasn’t done in the entire decade I’ve known her) for 40p if she doesn’t want to send it to me on facebook, or via email.
Maybe I’m just old and grumpy, but what the actual hell?
I don’t own a car, and I have never learned to drive, but just for a second, lets say I can, and I have a second hand red VW Polo (bear with me here).
It has driven back and forth for years visiting friends and family without any problems. It’s passed its MOT, still has four wheels, still works fine, and I still use it every day to see my parents and my boyfriend… but now Friend A will only see me if I’m driving a Ford Focus, Friend B won’t speak to me unless I’m driving a midnight blue Jaguar, friend C won’t open the door unless I turn up in a Green Short wheel base 1995 Landrover Defender, but if I want to drop by with a funny video, they would prefer it if I turned up in the Ford Focus.
Suddenly, I need to have 4 cars, and four lots of paperwork, and four lots of maintainence, and four sets of keys, and I have to remember which person I can see while driving which car.
Or I could.. you know…just use one. Which is what any sensible person would do.