When I was twelve my physics teacher sprinkled the class with enthusiasm in the best way he knew how- a BBC news clip and a print out. Like most physics teachers in the world he was eagerly awaiting the turning on of The Large Hadron Collider like a child awaiting Christmas. Of course no one in the class cared in the slightest until he told us it could potentially break the world and all that we know. At the end of the class he told me that I held in my hand a Hadron Collider, that in his day even the calculator on it would have taken up a room, minimised by this amazing piece of ingenuity. My phone. He retired from trying to make teenage girls enthusiastic about physics a couple of years later; passing his remaining lessons using last resort teaching tacitcs such as burning things and making dry ice out of fire extinguishers. He would then ask the class not to tell anyone until he bought new ones from B&Q.
At the time I didn’t see my phone as something particularly powerful or amazing. I was feverishly desperate to get whatever latest model I could stick my pay as you go sim into, yet I didn’t do much with it post-purchase. Other girls were glued to their mobiles- passing round texts from people I’d never met. The most regularly used contacts in my phone were my Dad, Mum and best friend. I had only about a quarter of my classmates committed to its memory and the only people outside the classroom who knew my number were uncles and aunts. It is due to this that I didn’t really see the need for my phone, I never left the house without a parent and who else would I really need to contact? When my sight started to get worse my father insisted I kept it with me and it gradually grew in use but (alas) not sociability. My sent items folder was mostly filled with “Where are you?” messages when I couldn’t find the car to pick me up after school in the Netto supermarket car park. If my phone was a person back then it would have been a recluse huddled in a dark room, occasionally checking the time before returning to some form of narcotic enduced slumber.
I celebrated the passing of the first decade of the second millennium by getting in touch with the futuristic technology of the day- iPhone 4. Suddenly the collection of people that I wished I knew in real life could be interacted with in my genuinely real day to day life. Smart people who said things I wish I’d thought of. I no longer depended on reality to make my phone ring. Online friends blurred into just friends; first with the introduction of the Facebook app and then with time the additions of twitter, tumblr, kik, whatsapp, etcetera etcetera. “It’s not the phone, it’s who you have on it!” I remember announcing to my bemused father, having thought through the statement for some time since my enlightenment. This was lucky as it was also the first phone I had to commit to by contract without the leeway of divorce; should I get bored or drop it. But suddenly it was in my pocket all the time. Suddenly I cared if I was to drop it down the stairs (a regular occurrence with its ancestors). As my sight dropped the manufacturer caught me like Newton’s apple falling from the tree with bigger fonts and ever improving accessibility features. When my contract eventually ran out I was excited to get a new phone in my life, but ever grateful to my old one’s years of service.
I’ve had my current phone for nearly two years and it’s contract change time again soon. Maybe it is with me getting older, getting more perspective on things or more techno-dependent but I often think how amazing the thing I hold in my hand really is. I talk to people all over the world through it. I can be with anyone at any time. I can document my moments with photos and postings. I can do and talk about the things I love. I still agree with what little me was saying, it is the people not the phone model. But the internet made the phone for me as I think it has for so many others. Now I, like many others, just have friends. Ones I encountered through cyber space and ones I met face to face. My mini hadron collider has fused friendships which would otherwise have withered from the strain of geographical distance. Technology has shrunk what would have been a tower block’s worth of computing into an ever thinning slice of metal in our hands, and I think that is pretty awesome.