[From my Metro Now column]
Back when Hutch was still Hutch and not Vodafone, I was puzzled by the ad featuring the boy and the pug - the one in which the ugly little dog (a stand-in for the cellular operator, one assumes) follows the surly little kid around everywhere, even into a changing room, and the boy's expressions make it obvious that he isn't pleased about this invasion of privacy. What kind of message was this sending out to potential customers, I wondered. (I stopped wondering when I noticed that colleagues in the men’s room frequently talk into their phones while they are communing with the toilet bowl.)
Now Vodafone has billboards featuring the same dog but with a much more sinister expression on its wrinkled face. The one where it sits at the entrance of its kennel, looking malevolently out at us, sends shivers down my spine, especially since the boy is nowhere to be seen. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that his half-chewed remains lie in the dark interiors of the kennel, behind the evilly grinning animal.
Moral of the story: eventually, your cellphone will eat you alive.
Not long ago, a sweet-natured acquaintance got concerned that I was too anti-social for my own good. "Here’s a good tip," she said, at which point my attention began to wander, “Go to your cellphone contacts list every day, scroll to a random letter of the alphabet and pick one person whom you haven't spoken to in a while. Dial their number, say hi, chat a little. It’s a nice feeling.”
She must have meant well, but I can’t think of anything I'd be less inclined to do with my time. The world is way too full of people as it is – constantly clamouring for attention, impinging on one's personal space and time, sending emails, Facebook sheep and SMS jokes that one might never be able to (or want to) acknowledge. Why would I willingly add to this clutter, especially since a randomly chosen number from my address book might easily be that of an annoying PR person whose details I forgot to delete back in 2002?
No, I have private cellphone rules of my own, and I’m religious about them in a way I could never be religious about religion. First among these rules is: Ignore three out of every four calls you receive. (If the fourth call is from a PR person, I ignore that as well, and make up the numbers in the next batch.) This might be conscience-pricking at first, but remember that we no longer live in the age of antiquated circular-dial phones, when dialing a number required physical effort and was therefore an act invested with significance. The person who is calling you and whom you are now rebuffing merely had to press a couple of keys on his cellphone, and chances are he doesn't have anything important to say anyway; he's probably doing this because he’s bored, or because a well-meaning idiot friend advised him to scroll through his contacts list and make random calls each day.
There was a recent news item about research showing that there are cases of "ringxiety" among cellphone-addicts who think they hear their phone ringing even when it’s silent. My advice is: be ahead of the curve on this one. When you get a call, don't bother to check your phone; just assume the sound is in your head. That way sanity lies.
Special note here for married couples/generic lovebirds: successfully following the “ignore 3 calls out of 4” rule means that it’s important that you do not give your better half permission to answer your phone. [This is something you should abide by anyway - you're only married to each other, you haven't magically become interchangeable organisms, and it's entirely conceivable that someone might be calling up in the hope of speaking specifically to the person whose phone it is. In such a situation there’s nothing more annoying than to have his wife/her husband answer the phone instead, with a delighted squeal of "Hey, how are you?! Long time! So, what's happening...blah blah blah..." Not sharing cellphones or email passwords is another of the tips for a successful marriage I mentioned in this post.]
Another important cellphone rule: if you call someone back after having missed one of their calls, NEVER start the conversation by apologising profusely and going into a lengthy explanation about why you couldn’t talk to them earlier. It isn’t worth it. Really. All explanations get monotonous, insincere and pointless after a while, and the basic demands of etiquette can just as easily be met by a terse “Sorry about before, was busy. Now let’s see if you have something worth saying.” Anyone who lives in our lunatic world should be able to understand that there’s just no way every call can be attended to immediately. (If they don’t understand this it probably means they live in a tree, in which case they shouldn’t be using cellphones anyway, the radiation is bad for the leaves.)