COLUMN: October 20, 2016

A mobile telephone
YOU know how in films the hero’s friend survives an attack and then either limps on, or appears perfectly fine for a while, but then collapses and dies?

“Oh, no,” says the person with medical knowledge conveniently nearby. “Billy Yourmate must have had internal injuries. You couldn’t have known. There was literally nothing you could have done to prevent this.”

I had just arrived on a railway platform. I had had to go down to London for A Thing at which I would have to talk to actual people about stuff the previous day, an exhausting task. All I wanted to do was go home and make a cup of tea that did not feature a guest appearance by UHT milk – the worst substance in the world.

Why is UHT milk the worst substance in the world, you ask? Because people who hate milk hate it and people who like milk hate it.

But I digress. I had just stepped onto the platform. In one hand I held a heavy suitcase containing my laptop. In the other hand, I had an Oyster card, such is my preparedness to “tap out”. (If you are not from London and do not know what an Oyster card is, it is a card with the word Oyster written on it.)

And snaking from both of my ludicrously belobed ears was an earphone cable, leading to the phone in my jacket pocket. This is a recent development. I do not generally listen to music on my phone, but I have been trying to learn a couple of foreign languages in an attempt to make myself more interesting.

The point is that I am not used to having my head wired up to my phone. And so when I reached forward to tap my Oyster card on the sensor, my arm caught the cable, yanking the phone out of my pocket.

My hands were full, and, in any case, if my reflexes were to be compared to those of a cat, that cat would be Garfield. I was helpless as I watched the phone tumble groundwards. The cable was pulled taut by the phone, and then gravity pulled the phone away from the cable.

“Oh, good,” I thought, watching the incident unfold in slow motion, “NOW the cable comes out. Why didn’t it do that when the phone was in my pocket?”

The phone hit the floor hard. “Oh, dear,” I thought, “I hope, with some force, that the screen isn’t broken.” I picked it up. It was unscathed. I tried to use it. It was working. “Phew,” I thought, which is an odd word to think, “That was close.”

About an hour later, as I was learning the German for the important phrase “A duck is a bird”, my phone froze. None of the buttons would work, so, in a huff, I removed the battery and replaced it, my standard “I used to work in IT” solution to phone freezing.

It must have had an internal injury. Reader, my phone would not come back on, a calamity beyond measure and scarier than Ed Balls twerking while dressed as a killer clown on the Hallowe’en edition of Strictly.

Now you are all saying at this point, “Poor Gary!” But half of you are being sarcastic, and remembering war and refugees and suffering. And the other half are genuinely realising that you would be completely stuck if that happened to you, and angry I did not put a trigger warning on this column.

And it would be even worse if you were in a strange part (i.e. Barnes) of a city in which you do not live (i.e. London). And if the code you had to type into the ticket machine at the station to get your ticket home was only on your phone.

And it would be even even worse if you didn’t know anybody’s phone numbers these days because nobody knows anybody’s phone numbers these days because they are all on your phone. Or if you had to tell a German that a duck was a bird and you had forgotten the word for “duck” because of the business with your phone.

Essentially, it has made me incredibly aware of how stupid it is to have everything upon which you depend stored on a single mobile device, which you can break just because you are trying to learn conversational Portuguese and you don’t have three hands.

And now I have to buy a new phone.

4 thoughts on “COLUMN: October 20, 2016

  1. Something similar happened to me last year! I didn’t drop the phone, my rather heavy bag must have been pressed against the phone in the pocket and cracked the screen, but fortunately the phone continued to work for a few more weeks, right up until the week before I departed to warmer climes for my winter break.
    More of my life was stored on that phone than is prudent, as I was finding out to my cost. Coach tickets to Heathrow, boarding card, dates and times of all my travel arrangements, acknowledgement for my hotel accommodation and all the phone numbers to contact the providers of those agencies providing my travel and accommodation.

    I hurried along to my phone service provider, who shall remain nameless, only to be given the sharp intake of breath response I was dreading. I hurriedly arranged a replacement phone (from an entirety different phone sales outlet) and recovered some of my contact details from the SIM card, arranged for a new coach ticket to be texted and obtained replacement boarding passes!

    The good news was that a little oriental gentleman got my dead phone working again without any fuss of short intakes of breath, and for a moderate sum.

    I’m happily tapping this out on the very phone that caused me so much anguish less than 9 months ago!

  2. You do realise that pretty much every phone that’s been made in the last 5+ years will automatically sync everything* with some sort of cloud service unless you’ve specifically told it otherwise? If I lost my phone I’d be annoyed, sure, but there is nothing* on it that’s not immediately accessible elsewhere — contacts, emails, photos, they’re all safely tucked away in the hands of Google.

    * Apart from SMS messages, but the only ones of those I get are from Vodafone — they’re an anachronism.

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