My mobile phone has given up the fight. I killed it when I asked it to get me to Waterloo and back. Mounted on the dashboard, with the full sun of the hottest day of the year beating down upon it, it gave up the ghost around Vauxhall and decided it would rather die than go another foot. It came over all peculiar, raised its electronic eyes to the roof and fainted away like a Victorian lady with the vapours. It is an ex-phone.
This meant that I started to attend to all the adverts for mobile phones that normally slip off my attention like water off a greased barnet. Deciding on something as personal as a new phone is not to be taken lightly. It will sit in my pocket for the next two years and the intimacy of my relationship with it will only be bested by the one that I have with my underwear. I will treat it as a dysfunctional boss would treat their personal assistant, in that I will shout at it when it gets things wrong, make unreasonable demands of its attention and expect it to pre-empt any demands I may make of it, at any time of the day or night.
The major difference between a new phone and an actual personal assistant is the cost – the phone costs £600, the PA would probably cost more, especially to be bought outright. Still, £600 is an awful lot to spend on something that could be rendered useless if it slipped from my grasp. Drop a phone five feet to the ground and it may not work for you again. The same could also be said for a human PA.
For £600 I could buy a car, fill it with luggage, pack it with my most loved people and drive it to the South of France and still have change left for a menu prix fixe and a packet of Gauloises. It seems a bit much for something the size of a fag packet.
I usually spend days researching the possibilities of each major purchase, but I knew that the mobile phone companies go out of their way to confuse and befuddle, so I picked one that looked nice and signed a contract in about five minutes flat. I suspect that in time this will have been a big mistake...huge.
The problem with mobiles, and anything else powered by electricity that comes with a screen, is that they come with one feature as standard. One thing is always included in the box: obsolescence. The moment you tear excitedly through the packaging and release the contents to your hand, it is already last year's model. In six months, it will seem so ancient that you might as well carry stone tablets around with you. Yet, in the absence of any guarantee that the phone companies would cease their invention, I bought one anyway.
It arrived and I opened the box to find that the instructions were almost non-existent. Shampoo bottles have more detailed directions. It didn't even say how to turn the thing on. There was a pictogram of how to insert the micro sim card, which I followed precisely, right up until inserting the micro sim card. This is because there was none in the box.
“Typical”, I said, and much more besides. On calling the help line, I was assured that the card would be already on board the phone and popped the little tray out the side, as instructed, to reveal...nothing. They were very sorry. Not as much as I was. They said I could go into the nearest store and claim another card.
In a cloud of effervescent ire, I drove down, waited, tutting, on a stool while the person ahead of me filled out more forms than would be required to change their sex, and huffily presented my problem to the man in charge, who in two seconds flat turned the phone over and removed a different little tray with the sim card very much present. Turns out there are two trays, something I would have noticed if I had not assumed that the company was run by dolts and that it was just my luck to be sent a dud. The manager managed to look at me without communicating that he thought I was an idiot, something that I was feeling quite strongly anyway. The customers in the shop obviously thought so too, but were too polite to express it in words.
I will now spend the next two years trying to figure out what it does and how to make it do the things I really need it to, like find out where is Saturn in the sky, to see what the weather is like in Kuala Lumpur and to help some angry birds attack Darth Vader in space. I will expect it to remind me when I have an appointment, wake me when I set its alarm and retrieve the emails I won't want to read when I am out.
I also expect it will not do the one thing that phones used to be known for, before they became smarter than their owners: make phone calls. It does not seem as though that function is uppermost in the developers' priorities. For that, I will continue to use a landline when available, unless I want to have a conversation in which only every other word is audible and it sounds like person on the other end is trapped down a well.
After all, it only cost £600 - presumably, a phone that acts like a phone is extra.