Perils of the puppet-master’s strings

Several of us rocked up in Bath last weekend to celebrate a special birthday of a very special person. Better bloggers than me will soon post more eloquent prose in praise of the party we had. Suffice to say, an absolutely wonderful time was had by all!

It is to share some experiences – which I had with state-of-the-art mobile technology and the perils it presents, while getting to and attending the party – that I put fingertip to keyboard today.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague at Beyond Distance had written passionately about the disturbing attachment that some of us were developing to iPhones and its utilities.

I too have owned and used this phone for about four months, but it was in the last 24 hours that I realised just how much I was in its thrall.

It started with a phone call to say that the colleagues giving me a lift to Bath were nearing my residence. On meeting up, we had a quick meal of Cornish pasties near where I live, during which my phone was borrowed to enable the look-up of the origins of the Cornish pasty on the ‘Wikipanion’ application (app) on the phone.

We were enlightened with the knowledge that pasties were originally made as nourishing food for Cornish miners, and that currently there was a campaign underway to give this delightful regional fare the same ‘specialist rights’ enjoyed by the Melton Mowbray pork pie, Stilton cheese and Champagne.

Throughout the journey to Bath, we used the ‘Map’ function on the iPhone to track our progress (though the readings show in kilometres, the ‘Conversion’ app quickly assured us that it was 1.6 km to the mile). The ‘My football’ app helped me track the Premiership football scores throughout the drive and we managed to locate the pub we were supposed to rendezvous at, thanks to the ‘Urban Spoon’ app.

At the pub, while devouring some delectable items from the menu, two of our party played songs off the MP3-player on our phones, making another fellow diner wonder aloud as to how usual musical offerings of the pub had improved so drastically. On realising that we were playing the music saved on our phones, she too decided to play a few numbers from her’s and the right ‘notes’ were instantly struck with a complete stranger. Though striking-up a conversation at a pub does not exactly qualify as online social networking, that fact that it was enabled by mobile technologies was undeniable.

This begged a question from a contrarian colleague to the effect that ‘What can the iPhone do that my Nokia can’t?’ The debate was an absolute non-starter, as some incredibly clever apps were promptly demonstrated by iPhone-brethren and the contrarian appeared convinced.

One of our designated drivers had incidentally forgotten to print out the instructions so kindly provided by our hosts. Though, thankfully, he remembered an email with the instructions attached sitting in his inbox. This was quickly retrieved using the-you-know-what and once the post code of our final destination was known, the ‘Map’ function kicked-in once more to land us within metres of where we were staying the night.

At the party itself, we lustily but tunelessly belted out a parody of an Abba hit, in praise of the special person whose birthday we were celebrating. Later my curiosity led me to check out how badly/cleverly the original lyrics had been parodied, using the ‘Safari’ (browser) function.

Very… very late into the night, in a moment of sudden and absolute panic, it hit me that I was missing my iPhone. A call to my number was made and seconds later, to general mirth, it was established that I had kept it ‘safely’ in the inside pocket of the jacket, draped over the back of my chair… Whew!

It was possibly a combination of the momentary horror of the imagined loss and the effect of the inebriating liquids then coursing through my digestive system, the realisation suddenly struck home.

The sheer versatility of the iPhone and what the apps on it allowed me to do – just in the course of this one 24-hour trip – made mere usefulness assume levels akin to addiction and dependency.

In this technologically deterministic age, what had started as a desire to make connectivity easier had become something without which I felt lost.

Had I – for 600 minutes talk-time, 500 free texts, unlimited data and WiFi – sold my soul, for 18 months for £35 a month?

I felt totally and absolutely lost, despite being – like the proverbial puppet – tethered to end of imperceptible strings held by an invisible puppet-master, who seemed to know that I was getting more and more entangled.

And the puppet-master knew that I knew.

And also knew that I could do little about it.

-Jaideep Mukherjee (15 March 2009)

Leave a comment


  1. bdra

     /  March 16, 2009

    Jai, what a great description of the behind-the-scenes activities of the most technology-enhanced group of rockers at the Bath party – I can’t imagine anyone blogging more eloquently about the occasion! The French philosopher Derrida’s toes would curl with delight in his grave if he could read this – it confirms beyond doubt his idea of technology-as-prosthesis!

  2. bdra

     /  March 17, 2009

    Congratulations, Jai, on a very enjoyable and well-crafted contribution.

  3. bdra

     /  March 17, 2009

    “A Finnish computer programmer who lost one of his fingers in a motorcycle accident has made himself a prosthetic replacement with a USB drive attached.”

  4. Good post, your post could really help me in my work. Hopefully this will help increase my traffic more. Thanks for sharing.


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