In the forty years since the first mobile phone call, phones have got smarter, but have we?

It would be a fascinating experiment to switch off all the non-call applications of mobile phones – even just for one day
  • @lisamarkwell

What would life be like without mobile phones? In the 40 years since the very first call was made using the new technology, life has changed beyond recognition – largely by their existence. So could we live without one now?

If you’d asked me on Monday, when I sat for two and a half hours on a train next to a man playing games, texting and watching YouTube clips without headphones, I would say yes. Then again, I did tweet my anguish using an iPhone, so who am I to talk… But really, what kind of person, other than the visually impaired kind, still has keypad tones?

Back when mobile phones were for making calls on (not the full 40 years ago, I’m not that old), I assumed that once everyone had got one, that would be it. No need for upgrades, or cameras, or suchlike. I had spent the early days of my courtship with my now husband sending him messages to his pager, so the giddy joy of speaking to him direct on the phone, even when he was in a club, was amazing. Surely it couldn’t be bettered?

Now we have seen phones used for everything but making calls. It seems to be only the late-running commuter who speaks out loud into theirs – the rest of us stab at screens, headphones in, silently communicating or being entertained.

So, is life better now that I can spend each bus journey scanning websites; now that my niece can pacify her toddler by giving her the phone to play games on? Are we made more prompt by having alarms set on smartphones that sit next to our heads while we sleep or are we simply giving ourselves brain tumours?

It would be a fascinating experiment to switch off all the other applications of mobile phones – even just for one day – so that they could only be used for calls. With the exception of teenagers rendered speechless, who seem only to be able to use texts as a way to alert their parents to their continued state of being, we might fall back in love with conversation. Dinner arrangements could be made in one call, rather than a ten-text ping-pong of date, time, venue.

And I might be able to read a book or watch a programme from start to finish without my eyes flicking over to the flashing red light of my BlackBerry or the blue glow of an unrefreshed Twitter feed. Perhaps in the next 40 years, after I’ve shuffled off where status updates can no longer reach me, people will look back on us, all fingers and thumbs, and laugh.