The joy of modern life is that you're only a call or an e-mail away from missing your friends

Geoff rings on his mobile at half-past eleven on Tuesday morning to tell me that he's in Oxford Street. This is not altogether sensational news, in that he lives just off Marylebone High Street and so has only to take a three-minute walk to accomplish such a feat. But he must feel that there is some significance in the achievement because he has taken the trouble to remove his mobile phone from an inside pocket, find my name in the phone's electronic index, and press the dialling button.

"Hi, how are you?" he begins. I tell him I'm fine. In fact, on the whole, I'm much as I was when we met two days earlier in The Lamb and Flag. "Looks as though spring might be on the way at last," he says. I glance out of a window approximately one mile due east of his location and validate his observation. "Yes," I tell him. "It's pretty good here as well." "Actually, I'm in Oxford Street," he announces as though contradicting a widely held belief that he is currently resident in Hong Kong. "Doing a bit of shopping."

I listen patiently while he waits for several ambulances and a police car to pass. "Are you going to be around later in the week?" he asks. I tell him that I have every expectation of being so. "Sorry, I missed that bit." I repeat myself. "Jolly good. Well, I better be making tracks or I'm never going to get finished," he says, for all the world, as though extricating himself from a prize bore who was physically trying to haul him away from the entrance to Selfridges. "Cheers," I say. "Cheers," says Geoff.

Not much of a call, but enough to distract me from the review of the Giddens and Hutton book on the Third Way that I'm trying to write for the Canadian Journal of Sociology. I make a cup of coffee and decide to check my e-mails while it is cooling. There is yet another message telling me that thousands of attractive Russian women are waiting for my proposal of marriage, a reminder from Barnes and Noble that my order for Naomi Klein's No Logo is even now on its way, and a message from Gordon entitled "How are you?".

"How are you?" it begins. "I was down in the smoke last week and thought of calling by, but got caught up with a couple of things and so couldn't make it. Perhaps next time. Cheers. Gordon." I haven't the heart to delete the message, so I press "Reply" and tell Gordon that I'm sorry to have missed him. "Perhaps next time. Cheers. Laurie."

Talk about information overload. It's only half-past eleven in the morning and already I've learnt that my friend Geoff is shopping on a warm spring morning in Oxford Street and that a former university colleague, Gordon, who has shown no interest whatsoever in my existence for the best part of five years, was in London last week but couldn't find the time to see me.

I suddenly remember that I am not the only one who will be glad to have missed Gordon on his recent visit to London. I press the "Contacts" icon and click on "Janet". "Hi," I type. "Guess who was in London last week? Gordon. It seems I had a lucky escape. He tells me that he was too busy to call by. I assume you were equally lucky." I wait around for a few minutes in case Janet is already online, but there's no reply.

A pity, really. If Janet had got back to me, I might just have found the time to tell her about Geoff being in Oxford Street doing a bit of shopping.

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - How we have lost the joy of sex