Life Without A Phone
Lily Tomlin once said, ‘New York is always knowing where your wallet is.’ It’s true of all big cities, and longtime residents tend to stay out of trouble not just because of what they know but how they look and which areas they wander into.
When a couple I know recently visited from Australia for the first time, passing through London for one night on the way to Austria, I managed to bump into them (I’m one of two people they know in the entire Northern hemisphere). So I took them for a drink. They didn’t look especially like tourists, but all evening long they were targeted by every mad, drunk chancer in the metropolis.
I’ve thought about this and still cannot see what differentiated us – except when they spoke. They did not look especially wide-eyed and were dressed to fit in, although they jumped when a barmaid dropped a tray of glasses; no-one else flinched.
Criminals have a sixth sense for targets. I never see London crime but I certainly see it in Barcelona, partly because one part of the city has always had a rough edge, in common with say, Marseilles and Naples, and partly because there I’m the outsider. I’m tall and blond enough to stand out in any Latino crowd, so much so that shopkeepers sometimes address me in German. And I see crime more because of it. Yet violent crime in Barcelona was virtually non-existent until very recently, just as gun crime in London is negligible.
Yesterday I had my phone stolen. I was in a tourist area I never normally visit and had grown careless. I turned my back for a moment, whoosh. iPhones can’t be unlocked so they are used in a resale scam. We’re just weeks away from new phones arriving so I thought I’d try living without one for a few days.
The first thing I did not miss were phonecalls. I hardly make any. And the first big hurdle I faced was cash. I can’t take out money easily because I use an exclusively digital bank. The next services I use most are in order; my Catalan translation app, maps, photos and music, and somewhere at the far back end, actual phone calls. I can text on my laptop, but I’m not going to cart it around with me, so I’m trying no phone for a while.
Is it even possible to live without a phone now? Everyone has a phone. I have been hooked onto a zipwire, put on a gurney and led on a mountain horse by teens all chatting on their phones. I’ve watched girls risk death trying for one more Insta-friendly selfie. Like Lyra’s Daemon, they remain beside us wherever we go.
Day two was easier, even I suddenly had no plane ticket (digital), no ability to remember streets, music, book notes, addresses, numbers, names, no account balance (digital), no brain. I bought a notepad and a pen. I’m missing the soundtrack to my walkabouts.
But that’s all. I did not grow up with a phone in my hand. My parents got their first phone when I was sixteen. The avocado-coloured trimphone lived on a telephone table in the hall, and as my father refused to give anyone our number no-one ever rang it. If they did, he would answer in a strangled ‘posh’ voice, trying to put them off ever calling again.
Perhaps in some atavistic way I am devolving to my father’s behaviour pattern. Although being phoneless is nowhere near as difficult as I’d expected it to be, I may soon give in simply because friends expect me to be there.