Show Hide image

My heart has been captured by a Jezebel

The condition of the smartphone user is that of a dumb animal.

She’s lying over there in the corner of the room, innocently asleep; her dark face impassive, her scarlet dress neat. You wouldn’t think to look at her now what a tantalising jezebel she can be – how she can lure a man on, make him forget all else in his hunger to touch her, and stroke her, and touch her again; press her face to his, or else hold it at arm’s length and fixate upon its radiant beauty to the exclusion of all else.

And he, he’s lying over here, awake; tormented by his abandonment, although it’s difficult to say, such is the forthrightness – no, the stoicism – of his pale face, with its bold and simple features. He’s lying beside me, scuffed, chipped, painfully aged by a decade of rough manipulation – and now so callously dumped. How could I do it? I was warned and yet here I am not simply succumbing to the madness of the crowd, but almost revelling in the Dionysian digitations that have gripped me, the obsession, the compelling need for her . . .

Caught in a net

Yes, it’s time to talk about mobile phones again – and I make no apology for it. For those of us anywhere much over 40, the blanket coverage of British mental space by mobile communications has to be the biggest psycho-physical alteration to the environment that we have witnessed in our adult lives: we are all, willy-nilly, caught squirming in its net of bandwidth. I’ve written before about my revulsion at the attrition of the divide between public and private, between intimacy and sociability, between rapt attention and attention deficit disorder implicit in the promiscuous use of these devices; what I haven’t bruited about is the nature of my own twisted relationship with . . . Phony.

Phony 1 I got hold of during the 1997 general election, when I was commissioned by the late John F Kennedy Jr to chase Tony Blair about on the campaign trail and write about it for his short-lived political magazine, George. I remember holding Phony 1 while Alastair Campbell, his spittle flecking my face, shouted at me for dogging his master. In those days mobile phones were still a comparative rarity and while I liked toying with Phony, I wasn’t so enraptured that I didn’t after a few months leave him on the roof of the car before driving off at speed. Bye-bye Phony 1. I didn’t get Phony 2 (hereafter simply “Phony”), for four years, when my wife was expecting our second son.

Faithful soul that I was, I stuck with Phony until a few days ago. Flickering through the zoetrope of the years, I see how the phones of friends and family mutated, while Phony remained securely himself. When he was five years old he became remarkable enough to be commented on as something quaint; when he reached the venerable age of eight, children began to laugh at him in the street. Now he’s nearly 12, connoisseurs lavish praise on him and suggest that he has become collectable, while admiring his phenomenal battery strength and the purity of his functionality.

In part, Phony’s long life is attributable to this: unlike my human playthings, I’ve never used him much; for most of the time he’s been switched off – when I want to make a call, or receive and send text messages, I turn him on. It drives the garrulous circle of my acquaintance mad in turn, when I observe that mobile phones were invented for my convenience, not theirs. The sleeping beauty of Phony has been of a piece with the slumberous state of my other gadgets – my camera, my voice recorder, my laptop, my iPod (a vintage 2006 Nano): none of them leap into life and start demanding my attention; they are servants, not masters.


I have indulged in what seem like aeons of mockery, observing the useless fixation of all those around me upon 5-by-3-inch screens and yet . . . and yet . . . now I, too, have succumbed. What the hell got into me? I can only describe it as half an hour of madness, during which I sat with Phony pressed against my faithless cheek while the service provider went through the credit checks. Now I am owned by the svelte tormentor who lies asleep on the other side of the room – an iPhone 4S, I believe they call her but I think of her only as . . . the Bitch: a Venus in plastic, who whips me into obliviousness.

During the past 48 hours I must have spent 40 of them fiddling with her – sending useless emails, downloading dumb apps, listening to music I don’t particularly want to hear, and – worst of all – leaving her switched on the whole time. What more chilling indictment of the modern world is there than this: that the condition of the smartphone user is that of a dumb animal. Moooo!


Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Israel: the future

Show Hide image

No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.