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When your cellphone stops being your lifeline

I don’t know how meaningful this is. Perhaps it’s Freudian. But these days, I’ve started to forget an item that, back in South Africa, I was seldom — if ever — without.

This morning, for instance, I switched on my cellphone after pressing the snooze button for the umpteenth time, and put it out ready to shove into my handbag before rushing out to catch the ferry. And while gathering together my goods and chattels — my laptop bag (including a spare set of boots and flat shoes) and the shopping bag into which I’d shoved my lunch, notebooks, ferry reading material and other bits and pieces that may or may not come in useful during my working day — I managed to forget my phone. Again.

I think it’s partly because the phone in question is a bottom-of-the-range Nokia I bought as a prepaid stopgap before I settle on the phone I really want (at this stage, I’m falling for the global hype and holding out for an iPhone*). So I’m not especially attached to it and, if it was stolen, I wouldn’t be inconsolable. I don’t yet know many people besides my clients and colleagues, and they usually reach me via email or on my office landline. As it is, I don’t really phone anyone beside my husband and my mother, and then I’d use a phone card, not the cellphone.

My cellphone, once my lifeline, is no longer.

So my forgetfulness is symptomatic in part of the fact that I’ve moved across the world into a city where I have little in the way of a social network. My work patterns have changed (I seldom travel to client meetings unaccompanied by an account management person) and my network of South African friends exists almost purely on Facebook. When I return home and check my phone, there might be one missed call. If I’m lucky.

But there’s something else at play here. Because in South Africa, of course, cellphones are a necessity wherever you go. The security they provide is illusory in many cases. They’re very useful in the aftermath of a car accident; not so useful in a hijacking or a mugging: the cellphone is the first thing any potential assailant will target, and so many people have died for their phones. But cellphones are everybody’s essential security blanket in a scary world where horrible things happen to people every day.

I worry less about whether I have my cellphone with me because I don’t have to. And there’s something quite neat about that.

* I am fully aware that, if and when I invest in this expensive gadget, I will become completely obsessed with whether I have managed to mislay it/have it stolen and so forth. And that a cellphone will once again rule my life.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.