I was travelling a few weeks ago in a place where my network’s fees for data usage were particularly extortionate, so I turned off data roaming for the weekend.
My phone was then quiet and unblinking for a few days, only coming to life when we came across WiFi. This added to my enjoyment of and immersion in my holiday, so that was good. But it also made me realise how little my phone was a phone these days.
Messaging was the first thing to go, losing out to WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger. Then calling my friends went too, as those same messaging apps added voice and then video calling. Meanwhile email, internet and other apps became the centre of gravity (including the emergence of a love-hate relationship with the Twitter app).
Recently the only thing I use my phone number for is contacting people or businesses I don’t know, receiving security codes from various internet accounts, being bothered by coldcallers and robocalls, and as the method of last resort when 4G isn’t playing ball.
It is a bit like landline telephone numbers, which went from being an end in themselves, to being a means to get internet access, to being a strangely compulsory add-on to internet access, to not being required at all. A mobile phone number feels increasingly surplus to requirements, and I wonder if they will go the way of the rotary phone.
Yet for some reason I feel a strange attachment to my phone number. This may be a nostalgic function of my generation – I have had the same number since I got my first mobile phone in my teens. My phone number was my connection to the world and to my friends. It has been the most consistent way to reach me since then, as email addresses and social accounts came and went, and it would seem strange for that to end. It clearly serves some purpose, as a unique identity and identifier. It is my particular string of digits.
If it does go, I wonder what will come in its place.