Dial M’ for Gen­er­a­tion Mobile

May, 2002: First, they came for us. Then they came for your parents. Then our kid brothers and sisters. Are mobiles taking over?

To cel­e­brate the long-await­ed return of The Face, we have select­ed a stand-out sto­ry from each year of our exten­sive archive, from 1980 to 2004.

Remembered by writer Lauren Cochrane

It’s hard to remem­ber a time before every­one had phones, but there was – and in 2002 it was becom­ing more and more com­mon for kids to want a mobile phone. A lot of peo­ple had them, obvi­ous­ly, but cer­tain­ly not every­one. And I guess one of the ways they did that was to steal them. So jack­ing phones’ was in the news quite a lot. It was peer-on-peer crime. We had to find a way to talk to a lot of kids about it, so we end­ed up going to The Brit School in Croy­don, talk­ing to all the stu­dents there about it. They said it was almost a tak­en-for-grant­ed ele­ment of own­ing a phone, that it might get stolen. Well, I guess that’s still the case now… I did a lot of that kind of writ­ing for The Face, report­ing on social phe­nom­e­na. I also inter­viewed a cocaine addict for a cocaine spe­cial. Lat­er, some­where along the line, I moved from that hard-hit­ting, soci­o­log­i­cal kind of stuff into fash­ion. But I think that’s a part of what made The Face so spe­cial, the mix of those things, all in one place.” 

Lau­ren Cochrane is Senior Fash­ion Writer at The Guardian, and Act­ing Edi­tor-in-Chief of The Guardian’s bian­nu­al, The Fash­ion. She writes about every­thing from Marc Jacobs’ lat­est cat­walk show to the cul­tur­al his­to­ry of the buck­et hat

First, they came for us. Then they came for your par­ents. Then our kid broth­ers and sis­ters. Are mobiles tak­ing over? Don’t doubt it: the British sent 1.2 bil­lion texts in Feb­ru­ary, smok­ing is decreas­ing among teenage girls because they’re spend­ing mon­ey on cred­it instead of fags and more than half the British pop­u­la­tion now owns a mobile.

No tech­nol­o­gy since the com­put­er has had such an impact on our lives. They were meant to keep us in touch but turned us into con­tact-obsessed neu­rotics. They’ve rewrit­ten the rules of flirt­ing and made us look daft in front of our mates.

They’ve got us mugged, hooked on text and para­noid about brain can­cer, and we’re only too hap­py to pay for the privilege.

Chances are, if it hasn’t hap­pened to you, it’s hap­pened to some­one you know: at a bus stop, out­side the newsagent, in any dark cor­ner of urban Britain – a silent men­ace, a threat and then the grab. You’ve been phone­jacked. You’re anoth­er sta­tis­tic on the score­sheet of Britain’s newest street sport – a sport Britain’s youth tribes in 2002 are play­ing to win.

Because she gave them atti­tude, they took her phone and beat her up”

If it’s strik­ing that even five years ago there exist­ed noth­ing like the present cul­ture of mass mobile own­er­ship – up 600 per cent since 1995 – then it’s noth­ing short of insane that on some streets peo­ple are being intim­i­dat­ed, mugged, shot and stabbed for hand­sets that cost less than £100 in the shops. Phone­jack­ing is a very young, very mod­ern kind of crime whose rise has been as mete­oric as the tech­nol­o­gy itself. In the past year, a 19-year-old woman in Waltham­stow, North Lon­don, was shot for her phone, a 12-year-old Croy­don girl stabbed for hers and a ten-year-old boy in Lewisham threat­ened at gunpoint.

The Home Office esti­mate that 710,000 phones were stolen last year on the streets, with 28 per cent of all street inci­dents involv­ing the rob­bery of a phone. They know all about that at the BRIT School for Per­form­ing Arts and Tech­nol­o­gy in Croy­don, South Lon­don. While rules dic­tate phones must be turned off, in a class of 25 14-year-olds only one per­son is with­out a mobile – and every­one has a tale to tell about the time they got jacked. A friend of Kate’s was at West Croy­don bus sta­tion. She was on her phone,” says Kate. Because she gave them atti­tude, they took her phone and beat her up.” They’re all clear why it hap­pens. Some peo­ple do it because they can’t afford a top phone, or to buy drugs,” says Kay­la. But most do it just because they can.”

It’s got so com­mon,” mut­ters Lisa, that jack­ing a phone is like noth­ing. It’s like walk­ing to the shop.” Or, for that mat­ter walk­ing into the aver­age inner-city play­ground, where – for­get conkers, Poke­mon cards and weed – the only trade that real­ly mat­ters these days is in hand­sets. Emile, 15, goes to a school in North Lon­don, and says, There’s always some­one in the play­ground sell­ing jacked phones. You can buy one for around £20 to £30.” In Croy­don, Jim­my, also 15, reck­ons he can kin­da order a phone from a friend of a friend”. Bil­lie lives up to the Bad Girl’ slo­gan embla­zoned on her top and runs through some street prices: A 3210 is £25, a 3310 is £30, a 8310 is £50, and it goes right up to a Sam­sung A300 for about £200.”

It’s like­ly no one in the mobile indus­try ever antic­i­pat­ed just how the ulti­mate com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool would become the ulti­mate toy, for both adults and kids. As it stands, 88 per cent of 16 – 24-year-olds own mobiles. Con­sid­er also that 50 per cent of 7 – 15-year-olds own mobiles. While mobile man­u­fac­tur­ers stren­u­ous­ly deny tar­get­ing under-16s, the gen­er­al mar­ket­ing con­sen­sus is that when it comes to the youth demo­graph­ic, mobile phones are the new train­ers: func­tion­al tool, fetish item and per­son­al­i­ty exten­sion rolled into one. Urban myths which sur­faced in the ear­ly Eight­ies of peo­ple being held up for their train­ers in New York’s tough neigh­bour­hoods seemed charm­ing­ly unbe­liev­able. But put that to any­one who’s been jacked for a cheap pay-as-u-go phone and it’s unlike­ly they’d see the fun­ny side. For a tech­nol­o­gy sold on the basis of per­son­al empow­er­ment, with all that implies for kids and teenagers, it’s impos­si­ble to ignore the irony that mobile tech­nol­o­gy has the capac­i­ty to make a vic­tim or a crim­i­nal of any­one. Par­tic­u­lar­ly the young.

Accord­ing to the Home Office report the aver­age thief is 16. Phones are small and mod­ern. They’re easy to steal and they are a youth prod­uct,” says a Home Office spokes­woman. That’s why this is pri­mar­i­ly a youth crime.”

The tal­ly of 710,000 stolen phones hasn’t gone unno­ticed in White­hall. At the sharp end of the Blair government’s new empha­sis on tack­ling street crime’ are peo­ple like Paul Anstee, Detec­tive Inspec­tor for the Lon­don bor­ough of Bar­net. He insists the police take juve­nile mobile phone theft very seri­ous­ly. Over the last year, street crime has been dom­i­nat­ed by mobile phone rob­bery and in 50 per cent of those cas­es, a per­son of school age is rob­bing a per­son of school age. We’re deal­ing with that by cut­ting off dark alleys, mov­ing bus stops, putting plain-clothes police­men in the area, set­ting up a junior ver­sion of Crimestop­pers and going into schools on a direct level.”

He urges young peo­ple not to use phones after school, which is the most com­mon time for theft to hap­pen”, and offers the some­what unre­al­is­tic advice of wait­ing until you get home” to call or text. In addi­tion to the police, the judi­cia­ry are begin­ning to take a very dim view of the jack­wave: Lord Jus­tice Woolf recent­ly sen­tenced two phone thieves – both under 18 – to three years apiece.

Car­ry a chunky Nokia 5110 face-off’ phone? Then you’re safe”

But there’s a basic prob­lem which means that the mobile black mar­ket isn’t about to col­lapse just yet. Type *#06# into your hand­set. The num­ber that appears on your screen is your Inter­na­tion­al Mobile Equip­ment Iden­ti­ty code, a unique ser­i­al num­ber giv­en to each hand­set dur­ing pro­duc­tion. If your phone is stolen, quot­ing its IMEI num­ber to your oper­a­tor will black­list the hand­set and ren­der it unus­able. Until recent­ly, how­ev­er, IMEI bar­ring only worked on the orig­i­nal owner’s net­work, mean­ing the stolen phone retains a sell-on val­ue; once unlocked’ from its exist­ing net­work and switched to anoth­er, it’s usable again. Because every­one has a con­sumer right to change their net­work, unlock­ing is an entire­ly legal pro­ce­dure using a soft­ware sys­tem that can be bought on the net for £30 or car­ried out by any mobile retail­er. At a shop in London’s West End per­form­ing demon­stra­tions of how a phone’s IMEI is trans­ferred from Orange to Voda­fone, they admit to hav­ing sev­er­al reg­u­lar tech-savvy young assis­tants who can unlock more than one phone at a time. It costs £25 and takes five to ten min­utes – with no ques­tions asked. How am I sup­posed to know whether the phone is stolen?” protests one sales assis­tant, not unreasonably.

Voda­fone, Orange, BT Cell­net and T-Mobile (for­mer­ly One 2 One) have now agreed on mul­ti­lat­er­al shar­ing of IMEI num­bers in an effort to com­bat mobile crime. The adapt­abil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy is one thing, but the inge­nu­ity of the deter­mined mod­ern street kid is quite anoth­er. For the jack gen­er­a­tion, steal­ing mobiles is more than just a quick route to a few extra quid. It’s also fun. In a fea­ture­less Young Offend­ers Unit in South Lon­don, a group of teenagers are telling The Face about the busi­ness of jack­ing. Wayne, 18, makes his mon­ey from the unlocked hand­set itself. Every phone and each com­po­nent – bat­tery, fas­cia, ear­piece – has its own street val­ue. But only true style equals real mon­ey. Top prize booty on a street cor­ner near you include the dou­ble-screened Sam­sung A300, Motoro­la Wings and the Nokia 8310. Adam, 14, prais­es the inter­net for its mon­ey-mak­ing poten­tial: I stole a 8890, put it on Freeserve and some­one in Amer­i­ca paid £285 for it.” Car­ry a chunky Nokia 5110 face-off’ phone? Then you’re safe. Some­one tried to jack me the oth­er day,” says Lee, 17, but because I lost my Wings, I’m using a face­off till I get anoth­er one. They took one look at that and walked away.”

The most vocal per­son in the room is 16-year-old Patience. She terms the girls she steals with asso­ciates’ and knows all about arrest pro­ce­dure. You just say no com­ment,’” she says, and they can’t do nut­tin’.” She start­ed out steal­ing phones from bags in school chang­ing rooms but, like the oth­ers, moved onto the streets. She feels as if steal­ing phones isn’t a crime exact­ly – it’s just some­thing that hap­pens. It’s not like we leave our yard and go, Let’s take some phones.’ It’s so nor­mal and so many peo­ple do it, it almost doesn’t feel like a crime at all,” she explains. Rather, it’s a com­pul­sion. It’s spon­ta­neous. If some­one is too sumthin’ sumthin’, hold­ing their phone out like bait – it’s like they want you to take it.”

Unlike the oth­er sta­ple of street kid crim­i­nal­i­ty, joyrid­ing, jack­ing phones isn’t about destroy­ing adult’s expen­sive toys. Jack­ing is not a pro­fes­sion­al, organ­ised crime,” says Detec­tive Inspec­tor Anstee. It’s more about a kick from being able to do it.” Tak­ing from the haves and sell­ing to the have-nots of the young urban poor, jack­ing is rit­u­al humil­i­a­tion; the cash just sweet­ens the deal. For Jacob, 15, it’s almost like money’s not the point. He takes phones off peo­ple younger than him, as if it was for their own good. All them lit­tle boys with their 3310s that their mum bought them,” he tuts. When I was their age, I didn’t know noth­ing about phones.” While jack­ers like him gen­er­al­ly stick to intim­i­dat­ing their con­tem­po­raries, the hordes of barflies flood­ing city nightspots are their pre­ferred prey. Busi­ness­men are the best,” Wayne chuck­les. They have the best phones and you know they’re not gonna chase you because they’ve got shoes on.” Pic­ture a kid in a hood and train­ers scam­per­ing off with a mid­dle-aged suit giv­ing chase, and you have the rea­son tech­nol­o­gy, law and pret­ty much any­thing else won’t top the jack gen­er­a­tion: for now it’s too much like good fun.

And whose fault is it any­way? The wran­gling over who’s real­ly to blame for the mobile phone crime­wave goes on. Jack Wraith of the Mobile Indus­try Crime Action Forum (MICAF) says, The ele­ment of the fash­ion item about mobiles is what the chil­dren love.” BT Cell­net deny mar­ket­ing to chil­dren. Crime is sweep­ing the whole coun­try and with­in those fig­ures comes mobile phone theft,” says a spokesper­son. The Home Office, mean­while, sin­gle out man­u­fac­tur­ers. Bet­ter secu­ri­ty would have pre­vent­ed the rise in mobile theft. Devices should be as secure as they can be.” Mary Crow­ley, of The Par­ents’ Asso­ci­a­tion, says it’s also the fault of grow­ing com­mer­cial­ism: There’s an awful pres­sure chil­dren are under – you can see why they would want to acquire expen­sive things with­out pay­ing for them.”

Com­mer­cial­ism? Flashy design? The gov­ern­ment? Teach­ers? Par­ents? Either way, Patience, Wayne, Jacob and their crew are oper­at­ing in a fast-grow­ing junior domes­tic black mar­ket. A law­less gen­er­a­tional army com­ing for your A300, your flip­py Wings, even your bog-stan­dard Nokia. You can only hope their bet­ter judge­ment, if not low bore­dom thresh­old, will change all that soon. 

Snake Ruined My Life

Nokia’s pre­scient bundling of the pre­his­toric Snake with their hand­sets has helped intro­duce a whole new gen­er­a­tion to the thrills of Eight­ies arcade games. If your thumbs are still aching from your last tus­sle with the ser­pent on the bus to work, spare a thought for 33-year-old archi­tect Ste­fano Mir­ti, whose half-hour ses­sions led him to clock up a high score of 3,748 last year. Obsessed? Uh-huh…

Are you addict­ed to Snake?

l was last Sum­mer, when I was play­ing it a lot. I’d have to get my fix first thing in the morn­ing and then I’d play it last thing at night, to get to sleep. I was play­ing so much I broke my Nokia 6210’s key­pad. But once I reached my top score, I lost inter­est. Now I just play Oppo­site [Nokia’s take on clas­sic board game Oth­el­lo].

What’s the appeal?

Its sim­plic­i­ty. It takes two min­utes to learn but if you want to become a good play­er, it’s worth invest­ing time in it. Most peo­ple think it’s a mat­ter of quick reflex­es. But real­ly it’s about devel­op­ing a play­ing sys­tem and stick­ing to it.

How do you fol­low a pat­tern when the dots come up randomly?

It is about the snake, not the dots. Some­thing very close to Con­fu­cian teach­ing – con­cen­trate on the Way itself. It takes dis­ci­pline but if you fol­low a pre-set pat­tern, you stop con­cen­trat­ing on the but­tons and you relax. Your mind becomes emp­ty and you get lost in the screen. Remem­ber Tom­my by The Who? It was about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who was a pin­ball cham­pi­on. He played by intu­ition, which is what you’ve got to do.

Any oth­er tips?

My girl­friend lived 10,000km away. That helped. Oh, and the best time to play is in the morn­ing after you’ve just wok­en up. You’re more relaxed.

Is your Snake obses­sion unhealthy?

Peo­ple may now think I’m some kind of weirdo who spends his whole life play­ing Snake, but I’m just a nor­mal guy with a job. Real life, real fun, is not to be found in Snake, or in com­put­er games. 

Phil Hoad

Dead Ringers

Brain can­cer? Mugged for your Motoro­la? Try this for a mobile phone health risk: there you are, mind­ing your own busi­ness in your top-secret Afghan train­ing pad, and you decide to ring your friend, Mul­lah Omar. He’s not answer­ing, so you leave him a voice mes­sage. Then sev­er­al thou­sand tonnes of gleam­ing US cruise mis­sile sail out of nowhere, wast­ing you and your ter­ror­ist chums. 121, alright. 

This almost hap­pened in August 1998 (mis­siles locked on to Osama Bin Laden’s phone trans­mis­sion, but missed their tar­get) in retal­i­a­tion for the attacks on US embassies in Africa. The­o­ret­i­cal­ly, if you have a mobile and the US gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered you enough of a threat, it could do the same to you. You’re prob­a­bly not plan­ning the down­fall of West­ern civil­i­sa­tion but the state is watch­ing you all the same; or rather, it’s get­ting the mobile phone com­pa­nies to do the hard work. 

When­ev­er you make a call, It is logged via a unique loca­tor code’, allow­ing your mobile net­work to track your where­abouts. In urban areas, where the con­cen­tra­tion of net­work base sta­tions is high­est, this is accu­rate to with­in a few hun­dred metres. By the time third-gen­er­a­tion, GPS-enabled phones are avail­able, that’ll be a few metres.

Civ­il rights groups and con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists are up in arms about the moves being made by gov­ern­ments to gath­er this infor­ma­tion. In the UK, last December’s Anti-Ter­ror­ism Crime & Secu­ri­ty Act dou­bled the length of time that mobile phone com­pa­nies are oblig­ed to retain their data, from six months to one year. The infor­ma­tion they record not only includes a rough sketch of your move­ments, but also the actu­al con­tents of your calls. This infor­ma­tion is osten­si­bly held by the phone com­pa­nies for billing’ pur­pos­es, but giv­en the enfee­bled state of our pri­va­cy and data pro­tec­tion laws, it can be seized by the UK author­i­ties at the slight­est whiff of wrongdoing. 

These are the most aus­tere and dra­con­ian set of mea­sures brought in by any Euro­pean coun­try in the after­math of Sep­tem­ber 11,” says Mark Lit­tle­wood, of civ­il rights pres­sure group Liberty. 

Cam­paign­ers would like the release of this infor­ma­tion on a strict need-to-know basis only, at the dis­cre­tion of the courts, but this is a vain hope. And things seem to be get­ting worse. The gov­ern­ment recent­ly con­firmed the exis­tence of Ech­e­lon, a huge com­mu­ni­ca­tions-fil­ter­ing intel­li­gence oper­a­tion run by the US, Cana­da, New Zealand, Aus­tralia and the UK (the EU is plan­ning its own ver­sion). Use cer­tain keyphras­es, like WTC’, nuke’ or Pre­pare to die, Mr Bond’, and you may find your­self occu­py­ing space in the Inter­pol fil­ing cabinets. 

Bin Laden’s long since stopped using his mobile, though you can still leave him a mes­sage on his old number”

The irony is, it’s doubt­ful whether the step-up in secu­ri­ty will make much dif­fer­ence to the war on ter­ror­ism (Bin Laden’s long since stopped using his mobile, though you can still leave him a mes­sage on his old num­ber: 00873 682505331). The prob­lem with regard to ter­ror­ism and crime is not so much lack of data – It’s sep­a­rat­ing the wheat from the chaff,” says Lit­tle­wood. Hav­ing tens of thou­sands of emails and calls inter­cept­ed may well fill police in-trays but it won’t get them much clos­er to ful­fill­ing secu­ri­ty tar­gets.” Mean­while, we must decide if con­cepts like nation­al secu­ri­ty’ are worth the ero­sion of our pri­va­cy. Car­ry­ing a mobile phone is almost like car­ry­ing an ID card-cum-elec­tron­ic tag; the first steps towards a John­ny Mnemon­ic tech­topia where human beings come fit­ted with chips under their skin and receive 80-year Voda­fone con­tracts as chris­ten­ing presents. So go easy on the per­vy texts and remem­ber: the MI5 the­saurus prob­a­bly recog­nis­es all the SMS spellings for cannabis’. Phil Hoad

Kirsten Dun­st – Teen Angel

I hate cell­phones. I lost mine recent­ly so I was like with­out it for, like, four days to a week. It was a Motoro­la. I don’t do text mes­sag­ing. I don’t even look at my bill because I have a finan­cial advi­sor to do that. But I’m sure it’s high, cause I’m always talk­ing on it. Fan calls? No. No way. Oh God, no.

DJ Oxide – Hair-gel Garagista

Twelve hours is prob­a­bly the longest I’ve gone with­out using my mobile – it’s a mini Sam­sung. I do get calls from fans every now and then, but I’m polite. Then I change my num­ber. I only send a cou­ple of texts a day and my bill is about £150 a month. I always read my bill cause Orange skanked me!

Fat’ Rik Waller – Pop Idol

I’ve only ever gone one day with­out my mobile – a Nokia 3330 – because I’m a real tex­ta­holic. I send at least 50 a day. It costs a for­tune – the last bill was £250. Before I got into the busi­ness it was £30. I always read my bill these days. Do I get fan calls? Yes, I do. Isn’t it fantastic?

Addiction To Text?

For­get the Third Place: the scari­est com­pul­sion on the block is total­ly mobile.

And so, after the text mes­sage books, text mes­sage spam­ming, text mes­sage TV theme nights and the text mes­sage spe­cial offers from mobile net­works to let you win even more text mes­sag­ing time, the text mes­sage phe­nom­e­non’ (© all news­pa­pers, every­where, ever) has final­ly achieved the ulti­mate dis­tinc­tion of the mod­ern lifestyle acces­so­ry: it has pulled in its own real-life, med­ical­ly-cer­ti­fied, treat­ment-seek­ing addict.

Because he is being treat­ed in an addic­tion cen­tre – the Ring­gar­den clin­ic in Den­mark, which spe­cialis­es in alco­holism and gam­bling – the subject’s name can­not be revealed. His ther­a­pist Dr Michael Jorsel, how­ev­er, will say that he is in his mid-twen­ties, from a small town in Den­mark, and an ex-chauf­feur. He began using text mes­sag­ing to stay in touch with his clients, but then start­ed chat­ting to friends to pass the time spent wait­ing between jobs. By the time he sought help, he was send­ing more than 200 texts a day, run­ning up a quar­ter­ly bill of £970.

Dr Jorsel, to whom the SMS-addict was referred by his GP, main­ly treats ludo­ma­nia’, or gam­bling addic­tion. Over the last two years, though, he has also treat­ed addicts of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy because they tend to show many of the same feel­ings and behav­iours’ as ludo­ma­ni­acs. Both groups may lie to dis­guise their com­pul­sion, become rest­less when they have to stop, or indulge their addic­tion to escape oth­er problems.

The dif­fer­ence between gam­blers and peo­ple addict­ed to SMS and/​or using the inter­net is the con­cealed’ or dis­tanced’ iden­ti­ty. Being sep­a­rat­ed from oth­ers by a screen, says Dr Jorsel, gives them a lot of con­trol they per­haps can’t feel in real life”. This kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion often appeals to peo­ple who try to con­trol their rela­tion­ships, because it allows them to reply as and when they choose, rather than requir­ing an imme­di­ate response like ver­bal con­ver­sa­tions. Although text mes­sag­ing is rarely about using a fake iden­ti­ty in the way that gam­ing or online chat­ting is, it does allow you time to think up decent put­downs, chat-ups and come-ons.

Treat­ment for text-wreck­age is the same as for inter­net-addict­ed patients: coun­selling ses­sions to make the patient more aware of his com­pul­sions, and to get him inter­act­ing with real peo­ple again. There are, dis­ap­point­ing­ly, no reports of with­draw­al or of cold-turkey-drum­stick fin­gers twitch­ing invol­un­tar­i­ly or tap­ping out hlp me pls!!!” on imag­i­nary key­pads. Nor are there any reports of reg­is­tered text mes­sage addicts in the UK, although sev­er­al British psy­chol­o­gists have been con­tact­ed by peo­ple claim­ing to be addict­ed to mobile phones.

With the SMS mar­ket still grow­ing – over a bil­lion mes­sages are sent each month in the UK, mak­ing an esti­mat­ed £265m for net­works and adver­tis­ers – you’d have to expect more of this sort of thing. Dr Jorsel sug­gests that per­haps we are see­ing the first signs of a new kind of addic­tion”. He says that for most peo­ple the com­pul­sion lasts only two or three months, but oth­ers may be less resis­tant. So be care­ful. This stuff can SMS with your head.

Bill Bat­ty

It’s not Shakespeare’s son­nets, mate – it’s a text message”

Call Baiting

Is your phone ruin­ing your cool? Does your mobile make you look like a chump with its crap hand­set and lame-ass fas­cia? Check our how-not-to-mobile style file.

See the seat next to you? Any idea why it’s emp­ty? Because of your everyone-look-at-me-I’ve-got-a-mobile act, per­haps? Did you dis­cov­er phones yes­ter­day, or something?

It’s not Shakespeare’s son­nets, mate – it’s a text mes­sage. Stop try­ing so hard. She’s prob­a­bly already think­ing about dump­ing you. Try buy­ing her flow­ers instead. Or use a landline.

Great cheek­bones, guy. But do you real­ly hope to find the love of your life car­ry­ing your phone in a cel­lo­phane hol­ster? You might as well wear a sand­wich board say­ing I am insane”.

We’d love to say great things about this girl’s pos­te­ri­or, but all we can focus on is that ter­ri­ble Union Jack fas­cia. Look, the empire col­lapsed ages ago, love. Move on.

Mobile rela­tion­ship hell. She calls, he texts. Talk about com­mu­ni­ca­tion devices mak­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion impos­si­ble. These guys should lose Voda­fone and get counselling.

Pub tables are for pints, your fags, ash­trays, beer mats and crisps. Put your phone away, los­er. No one thinks you’re cool.

Huh? This guy tries to rock the anar­cho-trib­al­ist, back-to-the-earth look, and then total­ly gives the game away with his blow­er. What’s so eco­log­i­cal about a talk plan, warrior?

Turn round. Go to the shop. Give the man your fas­cia and ask for your mon­ey back. Admit it was all just a bad mis­take. It’ll all be OK tomor­row. You know you’re stronger than that.

Pay-As-U-Grow Crew

Real­ly young kids using mobiles. How weird does that look? Real­ly weird. We want to know who pays. So we went to Brighton and we asked.

LIoyd, 13

Favourite phone Nokia 8210

Week­ly spend £4

Who pays? Me

How’s your text life? I can send five a day, for free

Who do you call most? Mates

Does hav­ing a mobile improve your social life? Yeah, it’s eas­i­er to get a girl­friend if you can text her

Has any­one ever tried to steal your phone? No

Ahmed, 11

Favourite phone Eric­s­son T68

Week­ly spend £67

Who pays? I use my pock­et money

How’s your text life? I don’t send many text messages

Has any­one ever tried to steal your phone? No

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Ryan Giggs

Craig, 11

Favourite phone Nokia 3310 

Week­ly spend £3

Who pays? Me 

Do you take your phone to school? Yes, but only for emergencies 

Does hav­ing a mobile improve your social life? Yeah, I can get in con­tact with peo­ple when I’m out 

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Michael Owen

Sally, 12

Favourite phone Nokia 3310

Week­ly spend About £1

Who pays? I pay

How’s your text life? I’ve got a deal where I can send five a day for free

Do you take your phone to school? No, we’re not allowed

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Tuck­er from Nickelodeon

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Michelle from Destiny’s Child”

Jasmine, 11

Favourite phone Nokia 8210 

Week­ly spend £5

Who pays? I do, with my pock­et money 

Who do you call most? My best friend, Mel 

Does hav­ing a mobile improve your social life? Yeah. It makes me look cool! 

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Gareth Gates

Rosie, 11

Favourite phone Nokia 3330 

Week­ly spend £2

Who pays? My mum 

Does hav­ing a mobile improve your social life? Yeah – peo­ple respect you more if you have one 

Has any­one ever tried to steal your phone? No 

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Michelle from Destiny’s Child

Nick, 12

Favourite phone Nokia 8210

Week­ly spend £4

Who pays? I pay out of my pock­et mon­ey. Or my mum pays

How’s your text life? Ten a day – most­ly to my girl­friend, Emma

Does hav­ing a mobile improve your social life? No

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Arnold Schwarzenegger

Emma, 12

Favourite phone Nokia 3310

How’s your text life? I send about ten a day to my boyfriend and best mates

Do you take your phone to school? No. I don’t want it to get it nicked

Does hav­ing a mobile improve your social life? Yeah

Who do you call most? Peo­ple usu­al­ly phone me…

Karim and Hesham, 12

Week­ly spend £35

Who pays? Our mum tops us up £10 a month each

Do you take your phone to school? Karim: Yes, but we’re sup­posed to keep them in our lockers

Who would you most like a one-to-one with? Karim: My favourite wrestler, Kane. Hes­ham: Pud­dle Of Mudd

Once upon a text…

Liz McGrath’s got a bad case of Text Cringe’, a dig­i­tal love’s newest obstacle

It’s late. I’m on the night bus. His name in on my screen. I’ve spent ten min­utes typ­ing this mes­sage. The deci­sion is this: Can­cel or Send. Can­cel or Send. Can­cel or Send.

So I press the send’ but­ton. Then I regret it imme­di­ate­ly. No reply. Five min­utes lat­er, no reply. I wait. I wait some more. And then quite a lot more. A few min­utes turns into half an hour and then a chasm of time opens up and you watch all con­fi­dence you had flow­ing into it like sand and fuu­uck, it’s embar­rass­ing… It’s offi­cial – I’ve got a bad case of Text Cringe.

Who­ev­er came up with the notion that tech­nol­o­gy sim­pli­fies life obvi­ous­ly nev­er had a mobile phone and an itch to flirt. Text mes­sag­ing is the newest lia­bil­i­ty to your love life and Text Cringe the newest incar­na­tion of inse­cu­ri­ty in the love game. You feel the slow creep of fear tak­ing hold. You can’t think of any­thing else. Final­ly, pan­ic sets in. You imag­ine them receiv­ing your text, smirk­ing, delet­ing you, dis­card­ing you. You scur­ry back to your inbox. It remains obsti­nate­ly empty.

Good text leads to good sex. Don’t own a mobile? Then you’re fucked, and not in the way you hoped for”

Love it or loathe it, the text mes­sage is uncan­ni­ly well-suit­ed to the way we want to com­mu­ni­cate these days: with­out com­mit­ting our­selves too much. Which makes it emi­nent­ly adapt­able to the way we flirt. Nev­er before has an inan­i­mate object played such an impor­tant part in get­ting some­one into the bed­room. Good text leads to good sex. Don’t own a mobile? Then you’re fucked, and not in the way you hoped for.

But it works both ways. The purest of no-strings-attached, bets-hedged com­mu­ni­ca­tion, text is a gam­ble, a quick­fire round to the next lev­el of inti­ma­cy. You either pass or fail.

It’s a pain­less way of vet­ting some­one. Don’t like their texts? Blank the rest of their calls. Move on.

And, of course, the down­side of such clin­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion comes when you’re the one tex­ting. Because SMS has intro­duced a new ele­ment of inse­cu­ri­ty into human rela­tion­ships. Send a mes­sage and you relin­quish all pow­er, a grave mis­take in those first ruth­less weeks when a rela­tion­ship is touch and go and you’re both play­ing The Game. The gold­en rule of The Game is to act like you don’t care. Be in con­trol. Tex­ting can sin­gle hand­ed­ly screw your whole game plan.

So you press send’ and sit and wait. There’s not much you can do. Sit on your hands. Switch your phone off. Chuck it out the win­dow. Give it to your mate and make them promise not to give it back until tomor­row. It doesn’t mat­ter: you’ll still end up check­ing your inbox like your life depends on it, jump­ing every time you hear that tell-tale beep. Then deflat­ing when you find it’s from your mum.

I wait­ed a long time. In the end, he texted back. It paid off. We’re on, for anoth­er round. I com­pose, pause, and then send. And, in less than no time, I can feel the Text Cringe com­ing all over again…

The Future Is…

  1. Phones that take pic­tures and play tunes Nokia’s immi­nent 7650 brings West­ern gad­get gimps the abil­i­ty to take pic­tures; in Japan, i-Mode users have had access to this fea­ture for a cou­ple of years now. Also, the arrival of hand­sets equipped for poly­phon­ic ring­tones – which fea­ture sev­er­al notes play­ing at once – means those cacoph­o­n­ic bleeps will final­ly be replaced by sweet music.
  2. Phones that don’t look like phones Siemens Ammonite con­cept’ phone looks like the off­spring of a kitchen clock and the fos­sil it’s named after. Until opened up, DoCoMo’s P2101V resem­bles noth­ing so much as a Fer­rari F355 sports car. All this leads to one unavoid­able con­clu­sion: strange­ly shaped is the new small. Your phone looks like a phone? That’s sooo 2001.
  3. Total­ly cus­tomis­able phones Fas­cias, logos, what­ev­er… Com­pared to the grown-up cus­tomis­ing options com­ing your way, they’re child’s play. K-Java is the ver­sa­tile oper­at­ing sys­tem head­ed for our phones. Being open source’ means the shape, size and nature of what appears on your screen will be more eas­i­ly altered; by you, if you’re feel­ing nifty. If you still can’t pro­gramme the video, you’re stuffed.
  4. Lux­u­ry phones Nokia has start­ed recruit­ing fash­ion design­ers to work on lim­it­ed-edi­tion mod­els. But even that’s a bit Pound­stretch­ers next to the new phone’ from Ver­tu. The world’s most exclu­sive per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion instru­ments” as they describe them, come in 18-carat plat­inum, white or yel­low gold fin­ish­es. Price? A prince­ly £15,000.
  5. Retro phones Now that hand­sets are ubiq­ui­tous, the pur­suit of exclu­siv­i­ty in phone own­er­ship is now para­mount. Mobile phone enthu­si­asts are increas­ing­ly return­ing to old – make that clas­sic’ – mod­els. Indus­tri­al-look­ing sets from the mid-Nineties are being treat­ed to home­made tech upgrades and receiv­ing trib­utes from the increas­ing num­ber of retro­phone news­groups and deal­ers on the internet.
  6. No phones at all What bet­ter way to affirm your inde­pen­dence than by renounc­ing the mobile phone? You’re not in? Tough. They can wait. You did with­out one before, after all. The Face tried to speak to some anti-mobile activists about this, but they wouldn’t return our call.

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