From the Deputy Editor’s Desk .

Evergreen - - Contents Summer 2015 - An­ge­line Wil­cox

The co­me­dian Ernie Wise was fa­mous for “bring­ing us sun­shine” with Eric More­cambe as one of Bri­tain’s best- loved com­edy part­ner­ships. But, 30 years ago, “Lit­tle Ern” helped launch a tech­no­log­i­cal revo­lu­tion. It’s true! Eric’s diminu­tive other half — the one renowned for his “short, fat, hairy legs” — was the per­son­al­ity cho­sen to make the first public mo­bile phone call in the UK. It might sound an un­usual choice and could re­sem­ble the far- fetched plot of one of Ernie’s plays “wot I wrote”, but on re­flec­tion it was prophetic to link an en­ter­tainer with tech­nol­ogy. It also demon­strated the uni­ver­sal ap­peal of a gad­get that was set to change our lives in count­less ways.

In the three decades since Ernie made that call, on a mus­cle- strain­ing 11 lb phone, it is in­cred­i­ble how far we have come in em­brac­ing this tech­nol­ogy. Ini­tially a must- have ac­ces­sory and sta­tus sym­bol for the 1980s yuppie ( young ur­ban pro­fes­sional) gen­er­a­tion, the early brick- like de­vices, with a price to match their bulk, were highly prized by David Jason’s char­ac­ter Del Boy in the tele­vi­sion com­edy Only Fools and Horses.

Nowa­days, whether en­thu­si­as­ti­cally or re­luc­tantly, we nearly all own one, 93 per cent of us in fact. Some house­holds are en­tirely de­pen­dent on them — no longer hav­ing a tra­di­tional land­line — and there are more mo­biles than peo­ple in Bri­tain. For­get the yup­pies, ev­ery­one from school­child­ren to se­nior cit­i­zens has be­come up­wardly mo­bile. As so­ci­ety has en­gaged with a plethora of net­works, ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy has brought us suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of phones which are now, as their name re­minds us, smart.

We have grad­u­ated from push but­ton to touch screen and, per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly, we no longer sim­ply talk on them. Scrolling through myr­iad screens and menus re­veals an ar­ray of mind- bog­gling ca­pa­bil­i­ties. It is like em­bark­ing on a tech­no­log­i­cal voy­age of dis­cov­ery. We can text; email; ac­cess the in­ter­net and so­cial net­work­ing sites; get maps, di­rec­tions, pic­tures and

videos; lis­ten to mu­sic; use them as cam­eras, alarm clocks and cal­cu­la­tors; and down­load apps ( ap­pli­ca­tions), which en­able us to do ev­ery­thing from check­ing the weather to sub­scrib­ing to Ever­green ( see de­tails of our new web­site on page 123). All this — and more — can be done from a small de­vice in the palm of your hand. It is re­mark­able.

The public ap­petite for gad­gets — fu­elled by clever mar­ket­ing — means that ev­ery new mo­bile is launched upon the world amid a mass of flickering flash­bulbs and media hype. This type of re­cep­tion, once re­served for film and pop stars, il­lus­trates how these de­vices have be­come idols or trea­sured jewels, with their shiny cases and screens glit­ter­ing in the spotlight.

Com­bin­ing a phone and cam­era has proved ir­re­sistible in to­day’s im­age­con­scious, celebrity- ob­sessed cul­ture. We now have the “selfie” — a pho­to­graph taken by and fea­tur­ing the phone’s owner. Look out for in­di­vid­u­als grin­ning, hud­dled along­side friends or fa­mous faces, with their smart­phones at arm’s length. Ea­ger snap­pers can pre­vent their limbs aching by us­ing a “selfie stick”, but the in­tru­sive and dan­ger­ous na­ture of these ac­ces­sories, bran­dished like 21st- cen­tury lances, has re­sulted in many are­nas, venues and mu­se­ums ban­ning them. Equally an­noy­ing are au­di­ence mem­bers who film per­for­mances on their phones, which they hold at eye level or above, through­out the event.

Our sur­round­ings have been al­tered by the mo­bile age. There are fewer public phone boxes and some of the old- fash­ioned red ones, which were, co­in­ci­den­tally, phased out 30 years ago, have been imag­i­na­tively trans­formed into art gal­leries, li­braries, in­for­ma­tion kiosks, or con­tain life- sav­ing de­fib­ril­la­tors. While the boxes have dis­ap­peared, mo­bile phone masts and shops have pro­lif­er­ated.

Ad­mit­tedly, I use my smart­phone more than I ever ex­pected be­cause it is so con­ve­nient. How­ever, I sus­pect that our re­liance on and at­tach­ment to these de­vices comes at a cost. Face- to- face con­ver­sa­tion and gen­uine so­cia­bil­ity have suf­fered with so much com­mu­ni­ca­tion tak­ing place via a screen or de­vice. At the den­tist’s re­cently, I no­ticed all six peo­ple in the wait­ing room — aged from about 10 to 60 — were sit­ting, star­ing at and swip­ing their mo­bile screens. No one spoke or made eye con­tact; all you could hear was the den­tist’s drill whirring omi­nously in the back­ground. Worse than this though, are those fam­i­lies who can­not re­sist the lure of their smart­phones even as they sit to­gether at meal­times.

It strikes me that although the mo­bile phone her­alded an amaz­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions revo­lu­tion, the irony is, si­lence and iso­la­tion pre­vail as peo­ple in­ter­act with their hand- held worlds rather than the real world. But what mes­sage does tech­nol­ogy send out to you? Are you fas­ci­nated, fraught or flum­moxed? Let us know your thoughts. In the mean­time, I just won­der what Lit­tle Ern would have made of it all?

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