I had to wait on the Hammersmith line at Paddington for a full 11 minutes this week. during which I noticed in my 'up-from-the-sticks' sort of way, that the Underground information service there has reached new heights.
The next eastbound train, we were informed, had just left Shepherd's Bush Market and would be at Wood Lane in two minutes, Latimer Road in four minutes, Ladbroke Grove in six minutes – and so it went on. This information was repeated regularly with updates and I wondered why on earth we would want to know how long a train takes to get from one stop to the other several stations down the line.
I couldn't work out whether the announcer was a real person or an automated voice – but decided in any case that the inspiration for such a surfeit of information was that someone had got something new and shiny - that possibly beeps.
It put me in mind of a boy – Richard, I think his name was – that I used to sit near in double physics at school. Richard, let's stick with that for now, had a digital watch. This was the Seventies – yes, really – and digital watches were the height of wrist-concious technology, particularly for a certain kind of boy.
Anyway, the thing about Richard's watch is that he consulted it at least three times a minute and checked the date several times an hour. It was new and shiny and beeped, you see. This is what I think has happened on the Hammersmith line at Paddington.
I myself am going through much the same enthralment. I gave myself a smart phone for Christmas. Hitherto, I had been happy with an ancient Nokia that I used sporadically – but I do find it so hard to conduct my life without easy access to the world wide web (see Communication Breakdown) that I gave in and got myself a contract and a BlackBerry phone.
Now, without a hint of hypocrisy, I have turned into one of those people I used to moan about – constantly fiddling with my phone, which not only beeps but flashes too when something exciting, like an email or a text, happens and alerts me to the fact that I am a member of a great big lovely world. Not only that, I can set it to remind me to do things, which means extra beeps and flashes. All this – and it actually works in our field, which is to mobile phone signals what black holes are to light.
So I may not have running water, or electricity, but at least now I can keep up with Twitter.