I don’t need my phone to tell me where I am

And then, to top it all, the mobile phone goes phut, after years of faithful service. I had assumed that reliance on the cheapest, most basic of these instruments might have been some proof against entropy: there are, after all, fewer things to go wrong. But no. There then follow two spirit-depleting hours in the Carphone Warehouse on Marylebone Road trying to get the call centre at Vodafone to grasp the basics of renewing my contract.

Well, not entirely spirit-depleting: by the end of the affair, I feel as though I and Asif, the young man who has been hurling himself against the wall of Vodafone's obtuseness on my behalf, have become bonded in the way that soldiers under fire become lifelong friends. I knew he was going to be all right when I showed him my defunct phone, which is of a design and vintage that certainly pre-dates his ability to shave. Basically: he did not laugh or sneer at me. I liked having a cheap and crappy phone: it meant I could walk through the valley of evil (the Uxbridge Road) using it without fear that any mugger would find it covetable.

Unfortunately, the Carphone Warehouse (which, I learn from a subsequent communication from them, now has a royal warrant; and I don't know what to begin to think about that) does not carry any such antediluvian phones any more, and I have been obliged to upgrade to what I gather
is called in the argot of the streets a "smartphone". This comes with several features, few of which can be strictly said to be life-enhancing. But they certainly are distracting. The first one I made use of is the way that my children were outraged that their old-style dad now had a phone which was significantly more advanced than theirs. "It's just wrong," they say, and try to steal it from me when I'm not looking.

Lucid dreaming

But there's more. It is interesting, if not entirely practical, to know what the weather in Caracas is like. It seems to have more than its fair share of thunderstorms. I enjoy a thunderstorm, and wonder whether moving there would add richness to my life, or whether I would get bored with them after a while.

Worse than useless is the application (you will not find me using the word "app" any time soon, that one instance excepted) which tells me my location.

Now, as a general rule, I tend to know where I am at any given moment of the day. Even when my dreams tell me I am in a Bond villain's submarine lair, or on Gallifrey, or in Caracas for that matter, there is still a residual awareness that I am actually in my own bed (the times when I am in someone else's bed would appear to be over).

More irritatingly, the information it gives me as to my whereabouts is invariably wrong. At the moment it tells me I am at 114 Baker Street, which is even more inaccurate than usual, and presumably thinks that I am enjoying a crayfish and rocket sandwich at that address's branch of Eat. I am not. I am in the Hovel, writing this. I suppose it might be useful to know where I was if I had been kidnapped and bundled into the back of a van with blacked-out windows, or, Tintin-like, incarcerated in the bowels of Marlinspike Hall while my captors waited for me to divulge the Secret of the Unicorn; but there is scant chance of that, for which I am grateful

The carbon-based heart

But most trying of all has been the way that, weirdly, some texts from the previous phone but one (which served as a back-up for a few days before I steeled myself to get a replacement) have transferred to the new one. These are from the opening weeks of the happiest, post-separation, love affair of my life, and are, as you might imagine, full of tenderness and erotic promise. I am also told that my SIM card is full, and that it would be advisable for me to delete some of them.

Perhaps my phone is telling me that, in terms of mental and emotional health, it might be best to move on? To which I can only say: screw you, phone. Life is hard enough as it is, and if it thinks that removing evidence of a time when I was truly and completely happy is going to make things any better, then all I can say that this is the difference between the silicon- and the carbon-based heart. Although I have to salute the ruthlessness of the former, which demands that when your old heart breaks, you get a new one. For human beings, however, it is not that simple. l

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 July 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan