It’s time to re­store our phone/life bal­ance

The Daily Telegraph - - News Review & Features -

‘No­mo­pho­bia’ – stress at be­ing sep­a­rated from your mo­bile – is a word of the year

On hon­ey­moon last month, I went cold turkey. And af­ter the sweats, nau­sea and anx­i­ety had sub­sided, I found that life with­out be­ing sur­gi­cally at­tached to my phone wasn’t all that bad.

As it lan­guished at the bot­tom of my bag, I re­dis­cov­ered the joy of un­in­ter­rupted con­ver­sa­tion with my beloved, not car­ing about triv­ial mes­sages, and the cheap thrill of map-read­ing – smugly nav­i­gat­ing the west coast of Ire­land with­out once re­ly­ing on sat­nav.

Re­turn­ing home, I vowed to re­main on “hon­ey­moon mode”, set­ting lim­its for my daily so­cial me­dia usage and What­sap­pery (25 min­utes) and leav­ing my hand­set blink­ing in the kitchen overnight – along with my halo, nat­u­rally.

So when, this week, mass panic en­sued as mil­lions of O2 cus­tomers, my­self in­cluded, found our­selves dis­con­nected thanks to a “soft­ware out­age”, I was un­ruf­fled.

Ad­mit­tedly, I ini­tially thought the prob­lem lay with my iphone, circa 2013. Af­ter five min­utes of turn­ing it off and on again, and at­tempt­ing to con­nect to South­ern rail­way’s Wi-fi on my way into work (turns out it’s even less re­li­able than their timetable. Sur­prise!), I ad­mit­ted de­feat and looked up.

A funny thing – other com­muters were look­ing up, too. I made eye con­tact with a woman who shrugged and smiled. A real hu­man con­nec­tion on pub­lic trans­port – very 2008. In­stinc­tively, I reached to mes­sage my hus­band and tell him that 32 mil­lion peo­ple were now in on our se­cret. But I couldn’t. Never mind, we could talk about it at home later. How quaint.

Mean­while, in the of­fice, col­leagues were mak­ing calls on their desk phones. No one was steal­ing glances at Face­book dur­ing meet­ings. Wasn’t this the proof that an en­forced dig­i­tal detox is just what we all need?

Then, I started to get emails from friends: “I can’t get through to my boss to tell him our meet­ing has been can­celled – argh!”; “I was meant to get a call from the hos­pi­tal to­day.”

Oth­ers told tales of bor­ing work din­ners they could have wrig­gled out of, if only the mes­sage had got through they didn’t have to at­tend, and of­fices where the land­lines had been ditched long-ago, leav­ing em­ploy­ees twid­dling their thumbs. Oh well, ev­ery­one down the pub then? If you can find it with­out Google Maps, that is.

That’s where I fi­nally came un­stuck. Trav­el­ling to meet friends for a Christ­mas wreath-mak­ing course (cooler than it sounds) and frus­trat­edly try­ing to snatch a few sec­onds of Wi-fi at each tube sta­tion to look up di­rec­tions – I re­alised how easy it is to triv­i­alise the role of smart­phones in our lives.

Of course, it didn’t mat­ter a jot that I couldn’t book an Uber home, or­der De­liv­eroo, or mind­lessly scroll through Twit­ter. So what? But our phones have be­come so much more than that.

Imag­ine you’re the daugh­ter who re­lies on What­sapp to mes­sage her pro­foundly deaf mother, or the cancer suf­ferer who needs to have their fam­ily on speed-dial – both real ex­am­ples, tweeted to O2 by up­set cus­tomers this week.

When we say that smart­phones are in­grained in our lives, most of us rarely think about the peo­ple for whom they of­fer a life­line. For whom a day with­out data isn’t just an in­con­ve­nience, but a po­ten­tial catas­tro­phe.

What the out­age has proved is that there’s no go­ing back. Nor should there be. But it’s go­ing to take time be­fore we find some­thing ap­proach­ing a phone-life bal­ance.

Be­cause, let’s face it, we’re guinea pigs – the first iphone was only launched in 2007 and as re­cently as 2014, ac­cord­ing to Of­com, 40 per cent of us still con­sid­ered our lap­tops first choice for go­ing on­line, with just 22 per cent turn­ing to their phone. Yet just four years later, “no­mo­pho­bia” – stress as­so­ci­ated with be­ing sep­a­rated from your mo­bile – has been named a word of the year by Cam­bridge Dic­tionary.

Smart­phones have, and will, make our lives eas­ier in in­creas­ingly pro­found ways, we just haven’t worked them all out yet.

Years ago, I saw a documentary about the open­ing of the M1 in 1959. It was a sham­bles. The fu­ture had ar­rived, but we didn’t know how to use it – there were no speed lim­its, no lights and no bar­ri­ers. Cars weren’t used to be­ing driven for so long at top speeds, and 100 burnt out in the first 10 miles of the motorway on its first day.

It seems ab­surd to us now. And so will mo­bile melt­downs like this week’s. Al­though, as a few wags on­line have pointed out, O2’s en­tire com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work might have been out, but they were still able to send many cus­tomers their bills. Some things never change.

Claire Co­hen Bry­ony Gor­don is away Read more tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion Email claire.co­[email protected]­graph.co.uk Twit­ter @claire­co­hen

Mo­bile mad­ness: it’s easy to triv­i­alise the role of phones in life

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