Hannah McGill: Grown-up yuppie yearns for pagers

The early mobile was the exclusive preserve of psychopathic City traders. Photograph: PA
The early mobile was the exclusive preserve of psychopathic City traders. Photograph: PA
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MOBILE phones are 30 years old, which means there are functioning adult people who have no memory of a time without them. Not that everyone suddenly had one in 1985, of course.

The early mobile was the exclusive preserve of those psychopathic City traders who couldn’t risk missing a chance to invest in a deforestation project or a new network of sweatshops, and who now exist primarily as montages in documentaries signifying 1980s excess. Their mobiles weighed as much as a healthy infant, held a charge for around nine seconds and had to be powered by a sinister glowing suitcase like the one in Pulp Fiction. The rest of humanity clung for some time to the notion that it was a good thing to sometimes be out when the phone rang. Indeed, even the landline was too much of an imposition for some people – like my parents, who habitually unplugged the phone from the wall in case it should upset them by ringing. I don’t know why I’m using the past tense. They still do this.

Anyway, I made it through life in the family home, the release of Pulp Fiction and the whole of my studentdom without acquiring a mobile. When I was at Glasgow University in the latter 1990s, one person in my circle of acquaintances had a mobile phone, and he was ceaselessly mocked for his self-regard. The rest of us got by with pagers, which we adopted ostensibly because we were budding journalists and needed to be apprised of significant developments in university politics, but mostly used to exchange numeric codes meaning things like “Urgent, have run out of fags”. I don’t recall anyone getting rid of an old one of these, or buying a new one (“upgrading”, in modern parlance); they just circulated among us, like stray cats or viral infections.

I got my first phone when I graduated, started work as a music journalist, and doubtless thought that I needed to be primed for impromptu calls from LA. I remember walking along Sauchiehall Street, thumb-handedly picking out my first text message. It was in block capitals, either because my phone lacked subtleties such as lower case or because I didn’t know how to use it, and although history has not recorded what it said, it will have been something like OH MY GOD AM TOTAL GROWN-UP YUPPIE.

Now, of course, all change. Friends’ children are inseparable from their mobiles; even my babies, not yet 18 months old, are entranced by them, and have a strange instinct for how to operate them. I don’t, personally, regard this as a harbinger of the end of times. Communication is basically good; systems facilitating it have always carried junk content and valuable knowledge alike. Blaming technology for people being vapid ignores the fact that there were dumb people long before there were smart phones.

Sometimes, though – when a screen freezes up, a charger evades me or life just seems overly verbal – I do kind of miss those old grey pagers.

Pipe up for emotional musical legacy

COULD we be facing a bagpipe-free future? The championships convenor for the Scottish Schools Pipe Band has warned that due to scant encouragement from schools, young pipers are ever thinner on the ground. I will admit to a lack of sensitivity as to whether bagpipes are being played well or poorly, and having ostentatiously rammed my fingers in my ears when passing Waverley Station in an irritable mood. I am susceptible, however, to the phenomenon whereby despite disliking the sound of bagpipes in the everyday context, I can be reduced to nostalgic snuffles if I hear it at particular moments of heightened emotion. I’m not sure what the nostalgia is for: I’m too much of a physical coward to risk the violence of ceilidhs, never mind battlefields, and I’ve never been to the Tattoo. So either an emotional reaction to the pipes is part of my Scottish genetic inheritance, or they have an inherent capacity to affect tear ducts to an embarrassing extent if heard at the right moment, like Salvation Army brass bands, or that song from Donnie Darko. Maybe more parents should steel themselves to tolerate domestic practice. It would be a pity if the little fellas in the plastic tubes became the strongest legacy of a music to which most of us feel powerfully attached.

Pick your partner carefully

NEW Year, and time to dump that person you only stayed with so as not to be single over the festivities. Be sure, however, to pick their replacement using reliable indicators of suitability. A survey claims Scots judge potential partners on what TV they watch, and favour fans of Question Time over devotees of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. That’s right – 2015 is set to be sexual boom time for know-it-alls, whereas those who prioritise shallow glamour will languish in solitude. Where it leaves people who pretend they watch Question Time but secretly binge on materialistic trash isn’t covered by the survey – maybe that’s a confession best saved for the honeymoon. «