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London - Walking around Paris the other day, it dawned on me that there was something unusual about the people in the streets. But what was it?
At first, I couldn’t put a finger on it. After all, those walking in pairs were talking to each other, and those walking by themselves were remaining silent. What could be more normal than that?
When I was young, I used to expect Parisians to wear little black berets, to bicycle about with strings of onions around their necks, and to brandish long sticks of bread, just like they used to do in school textbooks.
A little later, I went through a phase of imagining they were all hoity-toity, but then I began to realise that this rule applies only to those who work in the grandest hotels and restaurants, where customers pay that little bit extra to be looked down on.
So we grow older and wiser: nowadays, I don’t expect people in Paris to be all that different from people in London, though I still don’t understand why, with all those shop windows lined with creamy buns and creamier cakes, the average Parisian is still a good few stones lighter than his London counterpart.
On this last visit, it wasn’t their berets or their snootiness or even their skinniness that struck me: no, it was something much more unlikely. It was the very thing that had at first seemed normal: those walking in pairs were talking to each other, and those by themselves were staying silent. So what, you might ask, is so odd about that? The answer is simple: they weren’t on mobile phones.
Back in London, you can’t walk more than a yard or two without seeing or hearing someone jabbering away on a mobile phone. On buses, in restaurants, in shops: jabber jabber jabber. “You’re Never Alone With a Strand” ran the slogan of the old cigarette advertisement. This should now be updated to “You’re Never Alone With a Mobile Phone”.
Of course, to a certain extent, this is true, since anyone talking on a mobile is presumably involving someone else. But what happens when their mobile fails to ring? I suspect they then feel more alone than ever: an unused mobile now suggests a void, a life unlived.
The mobile phone is as addictive as crack-cocaine. A new survey has just revealed that the average Londoner checks his mobile phone 150 times a day, or once every six-and-a-half minutes. The rest of the time, according to my own observation, he is talking on it.
In an interview recently, an elderly cinema projectionist said that, over the course of his lifetime, the biggest change in cinemas was that nowadays the minute a film ends, hundreds of little blue lights come on in the auditorium, as audiences manically check their mobiles for calls and texts.
This OCD mobile-checking suggests that, for many people, life is no longer what is happening now, but what they hope is about to happen soon. In other words, life is no longer life, but the anticipation of life: everything that matters is around the next corner.
I don’t suppose it can be very long before the government sanctions the first marriage between a human being and a mobile phone. It’s a move certain to be welcomed by opponents of divorce, as no one ever splits up with their mobile phone. In fact, quite the opposite: a new device on the market sounds an alarm when an owner steps anything over two metres from his mobile.
There are signs that owning a mobile phone may soon become obligatory. Already, some parking spaces are available only to those who have one, and there is an assumption behind all sorts of online booking (for flights, for restaurants, for theatres) that everyone now has a mobile phone number.
Presumably, most people will answer “So what?”: after all, 85 percent of adult Britons now own a mobile. To these people, owning a mobile is as natural as possessing a pair of shoes, or a nose. But what about the remaining 15 percent? What about the rest of us?
When I tell people I don’t own a mobile phone and wouldn’t know how to text, they react as though I have just confessed that I can’t read. “But how do you MANAGE?” they gasp. I tell them that it’s easy: you just have to get used to the painful idea that you can’t be contacted at random at any time of the day and night, that walking, reading or relaxing can no longer be interrupted, and that no prior arrangement will ever again be changed by a last-minute call.
Mobile phones have come to signify freedom, but in reality they are much closer to a leash.
“But what if . . .?” they start to say, then I see them struggle to think of an instance - lost in a desert, buried under an avalanche, trapped in a corner with Lord Rennard - when a mobile phone might truly come in handy. For those who wish to conquer their addiction and remove their aerials, a weekend in Paris is a great way to start. - Daily Mail