An Irishman’s Diary: On the new generation of mobile phone slaves

After a hardworking life – oh, that endless round of svelte champagne receptions and glamorous cotillions – I find that, in retirement, the only way to prevent my brain from atrophying further is to study, from my superannuated perch, the Plain People of Ireland as they pass by on their lawful, or otherwise, occasions. And I have been forced to one ineluctable conclusion: the Plain People of Ireland are weird.

In pride of place in my lexicon come those types who, ending a telephone conversation on a landline, don’t just say “Goodbye” and hang up. As they move to reunite the receiver with its cradle, their mouth follows it down, going: “Bye ... byebye ... bye ... bye .... byebye ... bye.”

And have you noticed how, at the big game, when people see themselves on the big screen, they wave at the screen, instead of at the camera?

Charting oddities

But the street is the most fruitful arena for charting people’s oddities.


What is this life if, full of care,

we have no time to stand and stare?

Well, yes, fair enough, but you want to be staring for a reason. Those people in the street who stop to gape after a speeding ambulance or fire engine, what do you think is going through their minds? Suggestion: nothing.

Now come with me, if you will, to this public urinal (lady readers may find it appropriate at this juncture to visit the powder room). Somebody is standing at the Armitage Shanks and they turn round to see who has come in! Who were they expecting? Bruce Springsteen? Niall of the Nine Hostages?

The lights-controlled pedestrian crossing, as you approach it, is unpeopled. You give the button a squeeze and settle down patiently for the little man to go green. Along comes another customer and, without entertaining the possibility that you might already have done the honours, they press the button, not once but multiple times. Do they think it works on a pneumatic or even a hydraulic principle, and the more you pump the button the faster the lights will change?

I believe I am about to lose my Guinness Book of Records title as the last sentient being in this entire Republic not to possess a mobile phone. But, as a Vodafone virgin, I have never stopped being bemused, dumbfounded, even worried, by the bulldog-like grip this phone or iWhatever continues to have on so many people after so many years.

See those young women emerging from their office building at 5pm. What is their first action?

That’s right, they delve into their bag and emerge grasping the Holy Smartphone Grail. And that youth is going to walk into the lamp-post if he doesn’t tear himself away from his tiny, multihued screen. No, by some inner adolescent radar he diverts just in time.

My sociological observations in this field, mainly but not exclusively of the younger crowd, tell me that, while maybe 40 per cent of mobile usage is actual texting and calling, at least 60 per cent is play. Yes, play. Footering. Call it Toy Mode.

All this is perhaps to state the obvious, but I believe I have advanced the science of human behaviour by identifying an additional phenomenon, which I will call the Comfort Phone.

As the Phone Slave (PS) walks along, the instrument will be held in one hand at the level of the midriff and about a half-metre away from the waistline. And every now and then the PS will glance down at it, apparently for some kind of comfort, or reassurance.

Serious students of Mel Brooks movies will be reminded of Gene Wilder's blue blanket in The Producers, with which he would stroke his face when stressed. And, in Blazing Saddles, Hedley Lamarr, in his bath, panicking until his little green plastic froggie is restored to him.


Same thing with the mobile phone, I propose: comfort and reassurance. I think it’s not too fanciful to suggest that, over the years, as evolution evolves,

homo atque mulier sapientes

will sprout a rudimentary third arm and hand, specifically to accommodate the Comfort Phone.

But maybe not. By then the Plain People, as they walk along the street, will be living their plain little lives exclusively through those wearable Google Glass spectacles, which are threatening to top the must-have agenda.

And I will still be trying to decide whether to get a mobile phone or not.