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02 December 2021

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The mobile phone – blessing or curse?
Adrian Leopard 227

The mobile phone – blessing or curse?

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It is really hard to imagine life today without your mobile telephone – even Grandma has one

When I was a young man, there was no such thing as a mobile phone. Ordinary people just did not have any form of easy communicator. If we were out and needed to call someone, we stopped at a telephone box and, if we were lucky, we had four pennies to be able to make a local call. Trunk calls, what we used to call long distance, were very expensive and you had to get those by calling the operator on 0.

Handheld wirelesses or as they later became known “radios”, were only available under licence and for very specific purposes until one day they introduced citizens band radio – CB. In the short term this blossomed and the people reacted very favourably to this new phenomenon – a radio for which no licence was required at all. It was quite limited in its range but really keen “breakers”, as users of the service were known, would have co-phase aerials attached to their cars and drive to high points in the area to maximise the distance over which they could transmit. Those were the years!

Citizens band still exists but is really the dinosaur which survived extinction event! Why is that? Well enter the mobile telephone.

Early mobile phones were gargantuan – standard style telephone receivers attached to large boxes containing all the technical bits. I remember that my “large box” fitted into a metal rack in the boot of my car and if I wanted it to become truly mobile and carry it around with me, I could unscrew it and then attach the receiver. It would weigh something around 10 lbs though so certainly nothing you could pop into your breast pocket!

Mobile phones in cars, “car phones”, became a real status symbol at one point. Who remembers the story and Fred and John? Fred had had a mobile phone in his car for a year or two and John was terribly jealous – he could not afford one. Well the day came when he could so he had it installed in his car and went out in it. He decided his first call would be to John in his car. “Fred”, he said, “John here. Just ringing to let you know I have a phone in my car now”. The spontaneous reply came “Hang on John, just got to answer the other phone”……

Since then the mobile phone has gone through various reincarnations, initially getting smaller and smaller until they were the size of a match box and then they started getting bigger again to become the phones we know and love today.

All of this is very interesting, I hear you say, but why are you talking about it now? Well ownership of the mobile phone in the UK reached saturation point some years ago – that was when something like 98% of people owned them. It has become a growing problem in many areas of life. You can walk down the high street of your town and people can literally walk into you because they are so intent on using their phones that they are not looking where they are going.

Schools are today’s whipping boys, however because mobile phones have really become a major problem and schools have had to introduce rules to control them. However the Education Secretary has now said that they should not be used or seen during the school day because they have affected children’s discipline and order. It is true, isn’t it? Children are immersed in their phones at every possible moment, whether it is texting their friends, listening to music, playing games or a host of other uses. The minister goes on to say that they even distract from healthy exercise or good old-fashioned play.

It appears that there are very widely differing views on what usage should be permitted in schools. In France the law does not permit the use of phones inside school grounds – no ambiguity there then! Although successive ministers have also been against them, no law has yet been passed regulating the position.

But far from being a curse, the mobile is also a blessing. How many of us have said and how many times “how did we ever manage without one?”

Indeed.

Adrian Leopard 07-04-21

Photo David Svihovec

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