There was a time when mobile phones were quite rare. Their owners were proud of their new toys, and would ostentatiously use them in public places. Never mind that what they said into them was of mind-numbing banality, (‘My train’s just leaving now, dear,’) and certainly never mind that they were irritating those around them, in fact that was the point: the important thing was to show everybody that one had a mobile phone. They hoped everybody would think ‘Gosh, he must be an interesting chap if people need to talk to him even when he’s travelling, or in the café, or even (God help us) in the bookshop or library.’ The rest of us put up with it. Perhaps we even pitied mobile phone users: transparently, their need to show everyone how interesting they were was motivated by a terrible fear of the truth: that they were in fact utterly boring.
Now that ‘everybody’ — everybody in the ‘developed’ world — (except me) — has a mobile phone, that explanation for their use where it will annoy others can’t apply any more, but people still do it — just as one is nodding off to sleep, or settling down to concentrate on an interesting book, there it is again, often heralded by the fairly standard ring-tone of a waltz by Tarrega (a side-effect of the damn things is that classical guitarists have had to cut what was once a lovely piece from the repertoire): ‘Hallo? Yes I’ll be home about 8.30. What? Burger and baked beans? Oh good.’ The only explanation now must be what had always been a part of the explanation: arrogance and bad manners. They don’t give a damn whom they annoy.
True, just occasionally having a mobile phone might get one out of a difficult or dangerous situation. How often? One call in a thousand? One call in ten thousand? Is it worth it?
I began to think of jamming devices: things to prevent the use of mobile phones anywhere nearby. Shouldn’t be, technologically, very difficult: first find out what frequency range mobile phones use — apparently it’s around 800 Megahertz — and then build a small transmitter, preferably with a rather unselective band-width, to match. But my skills in electronics belong to the era of big glass valves and sets that took five minutes to warm up; I never really got on with semi-conductors beyond the germanium diode. Perhaps one could buy one, ready-made? In fact, don’t they use them in places like hospitals and theatres, knowing that mobile-phone users would simply not have the decency (see above) to turn their toys off?
Yes, you can buy mobile phone jammers. They are rather expensive. Also — and this is shocking and infuriating — their use by private owners is, almost everywhere one is likely to want to use one, illegal!
That is to say, the ‘right’ of ill-mannered morons to disturb the rest of us with their noisy vapidities is actually protected by law! There could not be a more telling symptom of the sheer philistine vulgarity of modern western society.
By the way, there was a panic some years ago at reports that mobile phone use caused brain damage. Users need not have worried: it is in fact brain damage that causes mobile phone use.