In 1999 I was a terrified 19-year-old country boy living in Tottenham.
I’d left the sandy beeches of Bergerac’s Island – otherwise known as Jersey – to read English at Middlesex University. I say ‘read’ – who am I kidding? The Oxford kids can get away with saying that. My studies majored on my liquid consumption undertaken predominantly in the Student Union, interspersed with visits to Wetherspoons for the 2 for £5 meal deals.
I left Jersey a boy. A boy who used libraries to research his homework. A boy who met his friends outside Woolworths at precisely 1pm every Saturday – failure to be punctual would mean he’d miss them. A boy who hand wrote all of his bloody essays. Man alive, what a dinosaur.
When I came back to Jersey after that fateful first term in North London I was a man. A man with his own email account, a laptop to type his essays onto, and with what would become the commodity of the 21st century; a mobile phone.
My first was a Nokia 5110. It was as fat as it was wide, with a small stub at the top for an aerial and a pixelated green screen. The highlight of the device wasn’t voice recognition or Apple Pay, but a game called Snake which which was as bad as it sounds and probably a bit worse.
But mobile phones have changed a lot since then. And this week, unbelievably, marks the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone.
I literally have no idea how we managed before phones. I mean, what did married couples do before they had iPhones to browse through of an evening? Independently gazing at their screen while sitting alongside each other. In silence. Occasionally pausing to say to the other, ‘Did you see Chantal’s gone to the Maldives again?’
Facebook would never have caught on without the iPhone. Imagine having to fire up your laptop every night just to find out the latest on Maggie’s Jack Russell, waiting ages for the thing to load and then having to wait even longer for the internet to connect.
And what would we do without smart phones in weeks like this, when the country almost ground to a halt as the threat of snow loomed large. I mean, what would you actually do, for goodness sake?? The panic has been palpable, even with phones: ‘Is it too cold to snow?’ ‘It’s too mild for snow.’ ‘The sky looks the right colour for snow.’ ‘The temperature will drop at 5pm and it’ll snow for two hours.’ ‘No, rain is on the way now so all we’ll get is sludge, not snow.’ ‘Snow snow snow snow spam and snow.’
On the advice of my phone, and that of an actual human being in the shape of m’colleague Emma, I decided to leave work early on Thursday, to try and beat the weather.
I left the office. It was snowing already. ‘Bloody hell,’ I thought. ‘This might actually be a tricky drive home. Have I been complacent? Have I taken the warnings too lightly? Am I going to make it home?’
Dad text. ‘Are you going to be alright driving home, son?’ He asked. ‘I’ll be fine, Dad.’Worry was beginning to set in. But not too much as I tried to take a picture of the snow falling about me – on my iPhone of course. But oh no, epic iPhone fail – one picture and then the dreaded ‘insufficient storage to take any more photos’ warning. Damn it. I don’t recall Apple ever warning us about these storage constraints 10 years ago, do you?
I got to my car and head for home. I drive slowly. Snow is actually pouring down. Will it settle? The roads are gridlocked. But it’s not settling. Repeat, the snow is NOT settling. 10 minutes the snow fell for. Then nothing. Still, it took me an hour longer than normal to get home. Snow. No snow. No difference.
A mate texts me from America. He’s been working over there this week. ‘Is it snowing?’ he asks.
‘It’s been and gone mate,’ I tell him. ‘Phew’ he says, from Miami airport departure lounge, beer in hand after a long day of meetings. ‘You haven’t had to deal with the stresses of worrying about whether it was going to snow or not,’ I tell him. He tells me about some of the stresses facing his American colleagues. It makes my stresses about snow seem a trifle trivial.
They’re worried about the future of their country – a future with Trump as their new President. I can see their point. Their only hope, he tells me, ‘seems to be that they’ll find out he’s had sex with a donkey or something, and gets kicked out.’
‘The conversation made me think of you,’ he concludes. ‘Which part,’ I wonder. Probably best not to probe him on that one too much.
It is scary. I mean, it’s scary here with the ongoing Brexit Omnishambles. In America they have a man at the helm who when he says he likes water sports on his Linked In Profile, he doesn’t mean he likes going jet-skiing.
I go to Twitter for answers. But I should know by now that Twitter is not the place for answers. I have an exchange with various people including Sunday Times columnist India Knight. We end up discussing Trump’s failure to use speech marks correctly. People respond. I have no idea whether they’re agreeing with me or not. I don’t think they are.
For the record, and I think this got lost in the exchange, my point on Trump’s Twitter activity is this: He is deliberately provocative, purposefully inflammatory, in order to get interaction. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is people are talking about him.
This week I’ve seen bright people, intelligent comedians like David Baddiel and Richard Osmon among others quoting Trump’s tweets to their own Twitter followers. Ok, with their own humorous ripostes alongside. But nevertheless, they are unwittingly helping to peddle Trump’s bullshit.
It’s depressing. I look for some light relief. I find a video of the biggest trick shot ever – it’s part golf, part snooker. Social media at its best.
Thank you iPhone, and happy birthday. You’ve quite literally put our whole worlds in our hands. But as Led Zeppelin once sang, ‘I can’t quit you baby, but I think I better put you down for a while.’