By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Online Magazine
They're a professional and social lifeline, and not having a mobile phone in Britain puts one decidedly in the minority. But as a social experiment, journalist Jennifer Quinn opted to leave her mobile at home in Canada for the duration of a six-month stay in the UK.
And it really was OK, believe me
We were standing on a sandbar on a Cornwall beach that would soon be covered by water, and the trick was to get from there to solid ground without getting our feet wet. The situation wasn't at all dire; we had plenty of time, so we were talking about what we would do if the tide really came in.
I thought, well, I'd probably run and get my feet wet. But someone else pointed out, jokingly, that they had their mobile and so could text for help. What would it say? "Swpt out 2 C. Hlp pls." Since I didn't have a mobile, it was clear I was toast.
I've lived a simpler life for the past six months, one where my handbag always felt just slightly too empty and I couldn't compulsively check my messages. I've lived without a mobile before - usually when it was forgotten at coffee shops, in the newsroom, one time, memorably, on the roof of a rental car at LAX - but this was the first time I had done it on purpose.
Social experiment or social suicide?
When I quit Canada for London, I knew I was flying into potentially the most mobile-dependent society in the world, a place where people seem to spend much of their time texting each other with gossip - and I'm not saying that's a bad thing - and having really loud, really inane conversations.
Since my conversations were frequently as inane as the next, the decision to forgo a mobile wasn't that hard.
Lifeline and landline
Admittedly, I always regarded my cell phone as more of an hindrance than a modern convenience. I didn't - okay, don't - like the fact that my editors could and did call me whenever, wherever, and am renowned, among friends, for forgetting to turn it on.
To be honest, there were doubts about how well this social telecommunications experiment would go. I was thinking, you know, social outcast, potential target for serial killer, frequently lost, uncontactable in case of fire, tragedy, shopping emergency.
But with just a week to go, the experiment nearly over and my reliable if somewhat clunky Nokia awaiting my return in Toronto, I can report that it is entirely possible to live - thrive - without a mobile.
In Britain, this is a minority decision. As of June 2003, more than 50 million people in the UK were using mobiles, and at least 75% of adults had access to one.
And there are certainly good reasons to have a mobile - safety, etc - but an inability to locate your best friend on Selfridges women's floor is not one. (True story. Don't worry, found her safe and sound by swimwear.)
There are a few ways your life changes when you don't have a mobile.
Firstly, you become far more organised. If plans are made, you're stuck with them (unless you're near a landline, of course.) If the plan is to meet in a pub at 6pm, you have to work your entire day around the fact that you have to be somewhere at six.
And if you're en route and realise you're running late, you'd better have spare change, that can be used in payphones to call those people who do have mobiles and who are waiting for you.
You become intimate with your A-Z. You have to make sure you know where you're off to because if you get lost, it can be difficult to navigate your way out of a warren of London streets without GPS and a Sherpa.
Then there's the fact that decisions have to be made and stuck with. You can't "approximeet" - an excellent word that is defined as meeting in a vague area at an approximate time and then sorting out the details by mobile.
Out of the service area
Work is different for those without mobiles, as well. At home in Toronto, I can't count how many times I've been in restaurants with other journalist friends - well after normal office hours - and we were all on our phones, notebooks out, each working on different stories. Fun? Not so much.
When you've got a mobile, you're never out of the office. Now, when I leave my desk, I really am away from work. I can't be reached until the next business day and while I realise it would be impossible to go on like this for much longer, it has been a very nice break.
The mobile-free person isn't the only one whose life must change.
Also, not me
There are repercussions for those in the mobile-free person's social circle. After all, the person without the mobile is really in the power position, if you think about it. Everyone else has to work around them.
Venues can't be changed on a whim and lateness can't be tolerated. They have to be where they agreed to be, otherwise the mobile-free person will be standing around like an idiot and if they're nice friends, they don't want that to happen.
Maybe I've just been lucky. I had no emergencies (at least, none that couldn't wait until I got to a landline), no forgotten social engagements, no huge stories missed, no major incidents where I was completely lost.
So life without a mobile? Fine for six months.
But I couldn't live without e-mail.