European Times: Helsinki - All the Finns want from Santa is a mobile phone

CONSTA AND SELMA, 12 and 11 years old respectively, are everything you expect Nordic youth to be: fair-haired, blue-eyed poster children for the healthy outdoor life. And what do these two young Finns want for Christmas? New skis perhaps, or some computer games? Not a bit of it. These days, in the homeland of Santa Claus, a pre-teen is nothing without a mobile phone.

"You promised, Daddy," runs the living room lament as this unwitting foreigner brings up the subject. "You promised, everyone at school has one." On closer interrogation that proves an exaggeration - the true proportion is about one in three but, in a sense, Consta and Selma are right. Statistics show that pretty soon there'll be as many mobiles (some five million) as there are Finns.

And that's only the half of it. For Finns are into mobile phones with the same zeal they once reserved for saving their country from the Swedes and Russians.

The gadget has transformed the national image, too. Weren't the Finns supposed to be a taciturn, vodka-sodden bunch, speaking an impenetrable language, producing lots of fish and timber, but mainly notable for winning the Monte Carlo rally each and every year?

Breathe the word Finland to the technologically enlightened these days, and their eyes mist over at the thought of sleek little mobiles that can practically think, and a million twinkling internet screens lighting up the Arctic night.

Not surprisingly Nokia, the Finnish company that has just overtaken Motorola to become the world's biggest manufacturer of mobile phones, has become as virile a symbol of national pride as the Winter War against the Russians almost 60 years ago.

Speak the words "mobile phone" to a Finn, and a broad, slow smile will spread across his face, as if to say, "You didn't think we were up to that sort of thing, did you?"

Nokia is Finland's General Motors; As with GM and America, what's good for one is good for the other. The company generates, on its own, a third of Finland's annual economic growth; its shares account for half the trading on the Helsinki stock exchange and Jorma Ollila, Nokia's president, was recently voted the second most powerful person in the country; it was probably only the Finns' respect for democracy that kept the Prime Minister at number one. Which is fine, but God help Finland if the mobile phone market ever takes a plunge.

Why should the cutting edge of IT have descended among these dark northern forests in the first place? Some say it is precisely because of this wilderness that Finns have more mobile phones, and more internet users, per head than any country in the world. How else are they to keep in touch across their vast, underpopulated land?

In fact, the phone gives the lie to the Finns' view of themselves. They do like to talk, but not face-to-face.

Thus the peculiar world of the Helsinki bus, of citizens who would not dream of passing the time of day with the person in the next seat, but whose reveries are constantly disturbed by a carillon of mobiles ringing around them.

And there is a more prosaic consideration. Phones are attractive, aggressively marketed (of this year's Christmas advertisements in Finnish papers and on TV, at least half seem to be for mobiles) and transparently priced.

Unlike Britain, where the unit is cheap and the costs, if you're not careful, can be crippling, you know what you're getting in Finland. You pay up front - sometimes pounds 100 or more - for the "terminal," as the companies like to call it, but barely above fixed line rates per unit.

Even so, how do you sell more phones in a country where everyone already has one? Children of course are part of the answer. You give them "Citiphones" which won't work outside the Helsinki area and which cut off after, say, 100 markka (pounds 12). More importantly, you persuade people they need not one but several mobiles.

A top executive of Sonera, the Finnish equivalent of BT, expounded the doctrine to me thus: "People want to work in a flexible way. That means one mobile like a palm-sized laptop, hooked up to webservers and so on. Then a car-phone, then a smart phone for handling e-mail and the rest and finally a small handy one for weekends."

The mobile, in short, is Finland's entrant in the race for the electronic future, where the telephone, the computer and the television are fused into one. In 2004, the Sonera man told me, the third generation of mobiles would be launched, with full video services. Already, open-out mobiles that offer a keyboard and connection to the Internet are widespread. Consta and Selma of course won't be getting one of those.

But next year, if not this, Santa will surely have a mobile for them in his sack.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn