I got my first mobile phone in the autumn of 2001. I bought it myself at an Orange store on the walking streets of Copenhagen. I was urged to get my own phone by my trendy and overdressed Danish friends who, like most Europeans it seemed, had been using them for years. That way we could coordinate at which nightclub we would meet so we could down Tuborg beer and dance the night away to Kylie Minogue and Jennifer Lopez, which seemed to be the only music they played in clubs in Denmark at that time. I had always disdained new technology. Who really wanted to be available all the time, anywhere? But I gave in to their pressure. When in Europe, do as the Europeans.
Unfortunately for my Danish friends, and my social life, I never managed to use the new phone. It sat in an orange-colored box on my bookshelf in my dormitory room. I tried to set up my account a few times, but every time I called the number on the box, some woman picked up and started speaking to me in Danish. Since it was an automated service, she never replied when I tried to tell her that I didn’t understand what she was saying. I got so frustrated with that Danish bitch that I returned the phone and got my money back. I told them it didn’t work. In a way, I wasn’t lying.
I didn’t want a mobile phone to begin with. Nobody I had grown up with had ever had one. Pagers were for drug dealers and guys who wanted to feel like they were as cool as drug dealers. It wasn’t until my junior year of college when, while sitting with other misanthropic young men outside the dining hall, I noticed that most of the freshmen had mobile phones. Even more horrifying, it turned out that many had already had mobiles while they were in high school! Can you imagine? At age 21, I was already a cranky old man.
Upon the repulsive sight of the alien freshmen, my friends and I vowed that we never would join the sheep and get a mobile phone. We were free spirits who didn’t need to be fenced in by newfangled gadgets. But our pact didn’t last long. One by one, each friend went down, joining the herd and getting his own mobile. By the last semester of my senior year at my university in Washington, DC, I was one of the few left who had not yet given in to the temptation of technology, until my father approached me at Christmas with a gray Nokia in his hands.
“Son,” he said, “I want you to have this in case of emergencies,” emergencies meaning terrorists flying airplanes into strategically important buildings. I could see it unfold before my very eyes as I took the phone from his hands, first the new attacks, then the exodus out of the city. Maybe I would walk over the bridges to Virginia or fan out toward Maryland. And then I would take out my emergency phone and call home to let them know I was still alive. “Thanks for the phone, Dad,” I would say with a tear of gratitude in me eye.
But that never happened. Instead, the phone sat in the top drawer of my desk, buried under piles of never completed homework assignments. I found it useless. I had a normal land line phone in my room and most of my social life seemed to occur spontaneously. “‘Hey, want to go see a movie?’ ‘Ok.’ ‘Great, let’s go.'” The phone sat there so long I forgot it even existed.
By this time Eamon was one of my few friends who didn’t use a mobile and he was proud of it. “I’ll never get one of those annoying things,” he would say, proud of how far he had diverged from the mainstream. But somehow he came across a really cheap deal for a mobile, and finally bought into it. “I’m not a sell out,” he convinced himself. “I need it for work.”
Eamon was notoriously cheap and his inexpensive calling plan charged him a rate by the minute, but Eamon figured out that he wouldn’t be charged for calls if they were under one minute. He therefore became a master of extremely quick phone conversations. He would ring a friend up and say, “I’ll meet you at the restaurant in 20 minutes, ok? Bye!” If you were with him when he made these phone calls, you would see him glance at the phone to see how short the conversation had been and hear him exclaim, “That one was only 28 seconds! Awesome!”
One night Eamon rang my room phone to tell me to meet him somewhere on campus in 10 minutes. The only problem was that he didn’t know where he would be in 10 minutes. “Why don’t you just call me then?” he said as quickly as he could. “Don’t you have a mobile phone?” Click.
Did I have a phone? I thought about it for a moment, and then remembered the one my father had given me. I pulled it from the drawer and, after some clumsy attempts, managed to start the strange box up. I put it my pocket, and headed out.
Ten minutes later, I called him. “Where are you?” I asked. “I’m in front of the university hospital,” he said. It turned out that I was right across the street, but a bus had just let out and there were people everywhere. “But I don’t see you.” “Look under the sign.” And there, under the sign I saw a dark shadow with an arm held up to one side of its head. Then the shadow waved at me. It was Eamon! “What’s up man?” I said approaching him. “I’m glad I brought my phone this time.” But Eamon was too busy checking to see how long our conversation had been to greet me.
“Fifty nine seconds!” he cried out and smiled to me. “Now that one was a really close call.”