At last count, I owned five mobile phones, two laptops and one PC. It sounds like the inventory one might expect of a City high-flier or exceptionally well-organised adulterer. Except, in my case, it comes with a caveat: the only functional items among that lot are one mobile and half a laptop (no longer connects to the internet, for reasons unknown). The rest remain wedged in cupboards and drawers, simply because somewhere within all those microchips and circuit boards are the traces of hundreds of significant moments from the past decade.
Texts from friends that had me doubled with laughter, a year's worth of emails from a long-distance ex, hundreds of photos that I never got round to printing off... The various chargers and leads are long gone and I haven't actually tried to switch half of them on in years, but somehow I can't consign the lot to oblivion just yet.
Maybe I've been brainwashed by those jingly T-Mobile ads, but my experience of technology is that it brings us closer together in more ways than it drives us apart. Very little lovingly hand-written material may pass through my letterbox these days, but the casual nature and sheer ease of emails and texts have elicited thousands more words from my not-so-near and dear than I could ever have hoped to receive via Royal Mail (certainly at the moment).
The ability to be in constant contact with your loved ones is obviously a blessing. But for the OCD-ish archivist inside me – and I suspect many others – it amounts to the work of Sisyphus as you struggle to keep up with all the priceless one-liners and heartfelt e-missives to create a record for posterity. As soon as one gloriously romantic declaration pops up in your inbox, it is buried by 17 group mails debating which bar to meet in that night.
I'd be happier relying on the natural archiving system within my brain were it not for the fact that, other than my own, I haven't managed to learn a phone number by heart in the past five years. Having relied on the virtual memory of machines for so long, I dread to think how diminished the capacity of my brain might be.
Anyone who's hit "send" on a misjudged or misdirected email will doubtless find it hard to relate to my anxiety at their ephemerality, but historians, too, warn that contemporary methods of communication will leave little trace for future generations to learn about how we live now. I take some comfort in imagining I am doing my bit by shoving all my old phones in a drawer; perhaps some day they will be unearthed on Time Team and provide unparalleled insight into life in noughties Britain. But only if they can find those bloody chargers first.