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No escaping our electronic handcuffs


Enda Kenny's number was put online. Photo: Damien Eagers

Enda Kenny's number was put online. Photo: Damien Eagers

Enda Kenny's number was put online. Photo: Damien Eagers

SOME people thought it was an outrage when someone posted the Taoiseach's mobile phone number online.

Some people thought it was funny. The Taoiseach's own response was surprising. He said he wasn't going to change the number because citizens have a right to reach him.

The rest of us might think that if he was about to talk to Angela Merkel about a better debt deal for Ireland, he shouldn't have to first deal with a member of the public.

Take the case of the conversation he allegedly had with a furious woman who claimed someone had stolen her breast pump. Only in Ireland would any victim of breast-pump theft think it was a good idea to ring the country's prime minister about it.

But Enda Kenny cannot get rid of the phone. He has to keep connected. The question is how many of the rest of us are in the same position, and how many of us have condemned ourselves to carrying around a ball and chain in our pocket?

Because that's what it is. It's a form of electronic handcuff. You are always contactable, whether you like it or not. Let's be honest, though. The mobile phone is an attractive, comfy handcuff.


Every one of us knows a friend or colleague who divides the world in two: the people who are around them at any given time, who are boring, unimportant and who should be postponed.

And the other group – the important, urgent callers on their mobile phone who must be dealt with immediately, even if that means being unforgivably rude to the people in front of them.

Here's the thing. The first natural law of the mobile phone is that calls on it are infinitely more important and immediate than calls on a landline. Makes no sense, but it's the reality.

The second natural law of the mobile phone is that calls on it are more important (even if they're from people you hardly know and don't like that much) than the people sitting in front of you, even if you know those people well and love them to death.

The third natural law of the mobile phone is that although you knew how to run your life and keep yourself out of danger before you got a cellphone, once you have one you become a complete eejit.

You'd be afraid to go for a walk without it in case you got mugged. Logically, of course, holding a mobile phone greatly increases the chances of getting mugged, but what's logic got to do with mobile phones?

Each and every day, sensible people turn back on their way to work because they forgot their phone. If they'd forgotten their lunch or their underwear, they'd stay on the road, but their phone? Without it, their day would not be possible.

That's despite the fourth natural law of the mobile phone, which is that 90pc of the calls and texts on it on any given day are a waste of time and start with some fool asking you where you are.


The fifth natural law in this area is that the telecoms God will poke you with a thunderbolt if you don't answer every incoming call.

Even if it's from a number you never saw in your life before. Even if it's from an aunt who is always on the make. Even if it's late in the evening from a colleague who gets around a lot of red wine each evening and will talk tripe at you for an hour. You still answer. We all do.

The odd thing is that, if anyone were to suggest a digital detox day, where for one 24 hour period in a week, people turned their phone off, it would cause national panic.

None of us could manage without our electronic handcuffs.