Mark Andrews: Why I probably shouldn't be ringing the changes just yet

It was early evening, I had just returned from a job to an almost deserted office, when I was distracted my the most infuriating sound.

Mobile phones can be so irritating
Mobile phones can be so irritating

A stupid, tinny electronic tune, a bit like a drunk trying to play a local radio jingle on the Stylophone. I ambled around the newsroom trying to find where this cacophony was coming from, but to no avail. The sound had no direction, and wherever I went, it seemed to follow me. Then I realised. The stupid noise driving me purple with rage was coming from my pocket. I had just bought a new mobile phone, and whoever had programmed it in the shop had seen fit to make it play the most nauseating tune.

My love-hate relationship with mobile phones probably began the time I was first handed a housebrick Motorola as a youngish reporter in the 1990s.

This was actually pretty cutting edge for the time, with a retractable aerial rather than the 'rubber duck' antennae of the earlier models. But even so, I can't say I was especially thrilled.

It might seem impossible to believe now, but in my late 20s I could actually be pretty vain. Garish shirts, footballer suits, too much time spent moulding my hair into a Mark Lamarr quiff. And around this time I had decided that mobile phones definitely weren't cool.

A few years earlier it would have been a different story. Red braces, Gordon Gecko and all that, in the 1980s a mobile phone marked you out as a trendsetter, a stylish young man about town, a yuppie even. But in the 1980s I had about as much chance of buying a mobile phone as I did a Porsche Turbo, so I got a Filofax instead. And now I was several years too late to the party.

And by the 1990s, mobile phones were starting to fall into the wrong hands. The sort of people who hung around shopping precincts in old Ford Escorts with blacked-out windows and noisy stereos. The sort of who sat with them on the table down the pub, or who shouted into them on the train. To the then narrow-minded view of this young reporter, a mobile phone marked you out as not so much a yuppie, and more a bit of a wally.

My prejudices were probably coloured by an etiquette expert in this newspaper who described the epitome of uncouth as being the sight of an overweight, middle-aged man in a string vest, with a copy of The Sun in one hand and a mobile in the other. As if that were not enough, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had recently declared them to be the 'scourge of modern society'. And when even Norman Lamont, at that time probably the uncoolest man on the planet, realised that mobile phones were passe, I figured this was not going to do much for my image.

My other problem was where did you carry it without drawing unwanted attention? It wasn't so bad in the winter, when you could lose it in the pocket of a heavy overcoat. But in the summer months it meant walking like a crab due to the huge lump of blistering hot plastic stuffed down my trousers.

Of course, it is not the size of your device that matters, but what you do with it. And that was where I really came unstuck.

The reason I had to carry a mobile phone back then was that, during my shifts as duty reporter, I would be on call at night to respond immediately to breaking news. Big fire in Kidderminster, murder in Kinver, I was supposed to jump into the red Rover and race to the scene.

At least that was the theory. Trouble was, I didn't realise that in order to receive calls about these major incidents, one had to keep the phone switched on. Rather naively, I assumed you turned the phone on to make a call, then switched it off afterwards. So for my first month as the night-call emergency reporter, my mobile was permanently silent. Nobody appeared to notice.

But while the old Motorola at least seemed quite sturdy, the phones that followed seem to get flimsier with every passing year. And as the number of functions increase, they seem to start developing minds of their own. I decided to part company with my last one when it started waking me in the night to take pictures of my bedroom.

"Tell that to the judge" quipped our crime reporter at the time, a Fleet Street veteran who had seen his share of tall stories from the witness box.

By this time, I had accrued enough pay-as-you-go points to get my first smartphone without having to actually pay for it, but this also proved to be something of a blind alley. I quickly realised that the 'smart' features, such as the internet and email, used up so much calling credit that I would no longer be able to afford to pay for other essentials, like clothes and pork scratchings.

So faced with the choice between nudity or a lack of internet coverage, I decided to put my colleagues first, and do what I did all those years ago. And turned the thing off.

I've now had this phone for seven years, and think I've finally got the hang of it. Over that time it's had a new screen, new case and a new battery, but it still works, well sort of. It isn't really that mobile any more, as it spends most of the day on the charger. The alarm packed up months ago, and the text-messaging function is a bit erratic. It has also recently developed a habit of switching itself off and then restarting every few minutes.

People tell me it's time to get another one, one that actually rings when they call me, and that uses these 'app' things they keep raving about.

I'm not so sure though. I've read this week how millions of people face being forced into self-isolation because of the 'pingdemic' caused by the NHS test-and-trace app.

And that's not a problem when you've got a seven-year-old Nokia that can't even handle text messaging.

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