Mobile Phones: ‘Please Leave a Message’

Colin Leigh Peters | March 2007

What happened to the love affair with cell phones? Maybe the honeymoon is over at last (Photo: Creative Commons)

It’s hard to get away from a mobile phone these days. Nearly everybody has one, and no one seems to remember how we used to manage without them.

But that doesn’t mean we like them.

In a recent survey of Vienna residents, two thirds rated the mobile telephone among their least favourite technology, an invasive necessity that most feel they can shut off only when they go to sleep.

One hundred respondents interviewed during the afternoon and evening in Vienna’s 7th district were asked to rank five inventions – the mobile phone, radio, television, computer and automobile – in order of enjoyment. The mobile telephone was ranked last or next to last by 67 per cent of those questioned.

And while a full 95 per cent reported finding their mobile telephones "necessary," another 60 per cent say they also find their mobile telephones "intrusive."

Many are selective accepting calls, with half reporting they do not pick up if the call "comes at an inconvenient time," 45 per cent when they "might just not feel like it," and 36 per cent for a "caller I want to avoid."

Which means that the other half answer pretty much all the time. In one short decade, the mobile telephone has established itself as one of life’s perceived essentials. Worldwide, a huge 2.6 billion of us now own one, spending an average of €20 per month on it, and making an average of 73 telephone calls a week with it.

In Austria, there is a total of 6.4 million users, making it per-capita the sixth-ranked country in terms of mobile telephone penetration. And we don’t use them just to make calls. We also send short messages punctuated with smiling faces to our friends. We use them as surrogate alarm clocks and diaries. Their digital cameras offer us the chance to spontaneously record moments for posterity.

Other surveys support the findings of the Vienna Review study. In a mobilkom poll, 84 per cent of respondents said that they always or nearly always bring their mobile phones with them on holiday, with 61% admitting taking them to the beach.

In another recent poll, by the BBC involving over 4,000 respondents, the mobile telephone was ranked as the second-worst invention of all time, beat only narrowly to last place by the ‘bomb.’

This news was of so much concern to manufacturers that change of image became a leading topic at the industry’s 3GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) World Conference in Barcelona in early February.

So what happened to the love affair with the Handy? Is the honeymoon already over? In the Vienna Review study, only five per cent said that they believed their attitudes towards their mobile telephones have worsened in recent years, with over 50 per cent citing no change whatsoever.

This didn’t seem to fit with our gut instinct prior to the survey: People seem to us far more willing to reject calls nowadays than they used to be, with evidence there before us in our very own actions. Have people simply forgotten?

But in the end, this trend, if it exists, may be positive. If people are ignoring more calls, then the mobile telephone is, in a certain way, becoming less intrusive. So, what do you say?

Let’s all strike a blow for freedom, and let the thing ring out till the answer-machine kicks in!

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