Sunday, December 04, 2005

Living with phones

Our follow-up to the Cardiff festival of technology and the creative arts for the run up to Christmas is almost ready to roll. Paul, the manager of the Irish pub in Trinity Street opposite the church has agreed to the installation in the pub's upstairs function room of a computer and video projector linked up to a mobile phone. The computer will run a slide presentation of Christmas images, from classical iconography and from children in a local infants school, and these will be projected on to the south wall of the church tower opposite. The public will be invited to text to a mobile phone number their Christmas greetings, either to individuals, or to the city, and these will be displayed in between showings of the slide sequence, all thanks to the technical expertise of Chris Evans, who mounted the adventure game project as part of the festival.
The messages unfortunately need monitoring, to filter out abusive and obscene input. This involves having an advertised mobile number for texting which isn't the number of the phone hooked up to the computer, plus a human intermediary to edit and forward messages. Fine, but I'm not a great fan of mobile phones, especially when used, it seems as excessively as alcohol by many sections of the population. I was given my Nokia four years ago by a lady from Llangollen who was a member of my congregation in Monaco when I was working there. I think her hubby bought her an upgrade, even though, as she'd say, there was nothing wrong with the one she had. I accepted it graciously, and have used it sparingly since.
It's a standing joke in the family that Dad never has his phone switched on and rarely gives out his number. I use it mainly for texting, finding people I'm meeting, and real emergencies – all of which are fairly rare in my quiet life. When I worked in Geneva, a member of the church council proposed that the Chaplain should have a mobile phone for people to contact him in an emergency. I could hardly think of anything really serious that happened in our widespread and diverse constituency that I failed to hear about quickly for lack of a mobile phone over a seven year period. The idea of being on call around the clock every day, except when on leave, filled me with horror. Already people would ring the land-line and open with; “I know it's your day off, but ...” And rarely was there anything which couldn't wait 24 hours. Instant communication, phone and email is a great asset in many situations. However, it does lead to the temptation to react without thinking, and in its turn this makes life more stressful all round. I need times of solitude to digest what's happening in life. Times when I am unreachable. Times to prepare inwardly how to respond to people and not just react to them. So, I rarely leave my phone switched on just in case someone might ring. As a result, my 1999 phone has its original battery and it still holds a charge for more than 24 hours.
I feel rather smug about this.
For the sake of this project I went out and bought a new entry level phone with SIM card to give me a new number for public use. I went to the phone shop that corresponded to my service providor, and waited there for more than ten minutes without getting more than a passing smile from the apparently ever so busy staff. Having failed to get attention, I slipped down to my local high street electronic gadget retailer, and was served immediately. I was out in the rain with a newly activated phone in less than the time I had waited in the phone shop. That's business, I suppose.

I was amazed to find that my new phone cost forty percent of the price I paid for a similar one for Clare three years ago. It's only the second time I have gone into a phone shop in buying mode. My new Nokia has a colour screen, it's lighter has a week's battery life on standby. Otherwise it has a few features I can do without, if I can ever get around to working out what they are and what the phone menus mean. It's a totally foreign culture to me, despite being computer literate for over 20 years. These multi-functional devices, which carry all your addresses and allow you to surf the net and email are amazing applications of new technology, until they get stolen or dropped down the loo. It's hugely convenient to have so much essential info in one small device, unless you are fumble fingered, or find the display screen to small to read. It gets worse as you get older.

Finally, after more than a week of waiting for spare parts to arrive, St John's church boiler has been repaired, and the slow climb back up from eight to eighteen degrees inside the building has begun. Once more I feel I can look people in the face and not have to apologise for the weather inside the building!

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