Magazine article The Spectator

Mobility Allowance

Magazine article The Spectator

Mobility Allowance

Article excerpt

A FEW days ago, I experienced a maternal epiphany. Softly entering my teenage son's bedroom at midday, I found him murmuring into his entangled sheets: 'Mum, mum, mum.' His voice was coaxing, then urgent. So he loves me! Then the mantra altered to 'mum-mobile, mummobile'. He was testing the voice-dialling service on his newest and most upwardly mobile Nokia 8210 (L149.99), the poorer relation of the Nokia 8850 (L329.99).

Teenagers are now the fastest growing market for mobile-phone companies. Earlier this year Vodafone, the market leader, announced that of the 24 million cellphones in use, 11.9 million are pre-paid. Pre-paid, in most cases, denotes a teenager. At least one in four mobile-phone users is under 18. In Helsinki, mobile paradise, 100 per cent of young people own mobile phones. It is not for nothing that the next wave of phone technology is called third generation; that is who it is for.

For metropolitan teenagers, mobiles are the primary method of communication. They have made the language and culture of mobile phones their own. For instance, text symbols: a Vodafone booklet I happened to pick up this week offered some friendly ideas. You can try :-) happy or :-( sad, or :-O shocked. A few months ago phones were going off all over England displaying chain-text symbols of a less whimsical kind. I doubt that there is a teenager left who does not now know how to draw male and female genitalia using punctuation. I was :-O.

Sex and technology are designed for the teenage market. The two are combined in the magazine T3, which features babes holding artfully arranged gadgets. I had to read out the newspaper story about Orange sacking staff for downloading pornography from the Internet three times before getting a teenage audience to understand the offence.

Text communication is teenagers' first language. There are now infinite variations on the standard constructions such as SPK 2 u LTR (speak to you later ) or BcNU (be seeing you). I do not believe that any of David Blunkett's 600 prescribed words appear on the screen. Incidentally, the dinkiest thing about smart messaging is that the phone can anticipate words. If you press eight once and four twice, the word 'the' will flash up. This is how addictions are born.

Mobile phones are the new trainers. Design and gimmicks are everything. It is as cruel to send your child off with a Motorola M3788 (L39.99) as it is to make him use a payphone. The first thing you need for a phone is a superlative. A teenage girl provided me with some choices: 'Ericsson 728 (thinnist [sic] phone in Britain), Nokia 5110 (most used phone in Britain) Nokia 8210 (lighest [sic] phone in Britain), and, ohplease-can-I-have-one Nokia 8850, the smallest and all-round grooviest phone.'

Of course the phones on their own are not enough to win peer respect. There are also the right phone covers (stainless steel, no bright colours), the right headsets (same applies) and the correct ringing tones downloaded from dial-a-ring.com. This website gives you the top ten rings including the song 'The Real Slim Shady' and the theme tune from The Simpsons, as well as the correct phone graphics. Having bought a designer phone, you need another designer's logo on it. The top ten choices include cK, Manchester United, Ali G and, not unexpectedly, porn, although this is not strictly a brand. Choosing the right mobile phone is a vocation; boys pore over phone catalogues as a prelude to car magazines. …

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