How the mobile phone separated politeness from punctuality

Punctuality is one of those things - like face-to-face human contact - that has been put at threat since everyone has become attached to their mobiles

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The Independent Online

For reasons too pathetically tragic to go into at this point, I have been without a mobile phone for the past five days.

I feel like one of the human guinea pigs from documentary programmes who are forced to see how long they can survive in the wild with nothing but a box of matches and a penknife.

It really does feel like that, a controlled experiment to discover what happens when a man is separated from the most ubiquitous and essential electronic device of the modern age. The first thing I have noticed is this: punctuality is no longer regarded as a politeness. Those of us of a certain age were brought up with a very strict idea of timekeeping, and were led to believe that it reflects well on a person's character.

The advent of the mobile phone has turned this into a much looser concept. Why worry about being on time when you can just text the person you are meeting to say you're going to be late? No problem. But what if that person hasn't got a phone? What do you do then, Buster? I ask this because I was kept waiting in a restaurant for half an hour the other day. But I texted you twice, my dining companion said, indignantly, in response to my frosty reception. Of course, the idea that someone wouldn't have the means of receiving a text is rather like discovering a fluent Esperanto speaker, but I do believe that punctuality is one of those things - like face-to-face human contact and an awareness of the natural world - that have been put at threat since everyone has become attached to their mobiles.

I have to say, however, that I have failed to see any benefit in my current, temporary state of disconnection. Isn't it liberating, people say? Not at all, because I spend my time paralysed with anxiety about the important text messages piling up in cyberspace while I am waiting to get a new phone. When I eventually get to them, I know there will be nothing vitally important I've missed, other than a couple from my friend who was stuck in traffic and would be late for dinner. But what about all those people who thought me rude for not replying to invitations? Or those who simply thought I was ignoring them? Sometimes, friendships don't survive such upsets.

I do understand that the absence of a mobile phone is not a huge issue. But I can't help missing my little friend, with its cute polyphonic ringtone, and the ping that announces a new communication from the outside world, and I have felt inconvenienced by not being up to the minute with the latest news. I'm certain that, when I'm plugged in again, I'll have more than one voicemail, saying: "Get that bouncy castle out, Alex Ferguson is retiring."

Come to think of it, that has been one benefit of being out of touch: I haven't been sent the same joke about Fergie again and again. On which note, I'd like to wish you a nice weekend - I'll be at Wembley, because you may like to know that there is another football club in Manchester.