Sunday, August 2, 2009

Almost a Yuppie, or How I Nearly Bought a Cellphone (in 1986)

In this age of tweets, MP3s and the ubiquitous laptop, I cringe when people announce, sometimes pridefully, that they are "Luddites." Not the textile machinery-destroying kind, but the sort of person who, for whatever reason (fear of new technology, thriftiness, poverty or Brahman tendencies), doesn't have a cellphone, computer or television.

The word Luddite, in this context, makes me feel all the more uncomfortable, because, until recently, I sometimes used it to describe myself, and because I don't have a cellphone and I don't use Twitter or have a Facebook page.

But, once upon a time, twenty-some years ago - when it was still hip (and strictly a profession) to be a graphic designer and carry around a diamond plate aluminum Filofax in your vacuum-formed black plastic briefcase, while listening to The Durutti Column or The The on your Sony Walkman, on the tube commute to the West End (of London) - I did come close to buying an early British cellphone.

I remember poring through the lavish mobile telephone brochure at the big old kitchen table in my Balham house share. The phone was smallish, more reminiscent of the Sinclair calculator than the brick-like first-generation cellphones. It was also incredibly expensive (a couple of hundred pounds a month, if I remember rightly), with a short range and patchy signal quality.

I was freelancing at the time and making more money working a few hours a week than at the full-time design job I'd just quit, and about to be headhunted to an even better job, so I was feeling pretty flush, and leasing a mobile phone seemed like a savvy, even affordable, move for the graphic designer on the go.

In the end, though, I didn't get the phone but bought a flat in South London and a Bang and Olufsen TV instead (that's how expensive the phones were).

This pivotal decision not to get the ultimate personal communicator of the day was the beginning of my long slide into bohemian prioritization - a sort of materialistic triage, whereby you might look out your window at your $5000 car, for example, and realize that if you sold it you could afford to paint for the next six months.

By the late 1980s, I was no more the early-adopter, as I had been with the Walkman and VCR, in the early '80s. The more time I devoted to painting, and the further away I got from the Siren call of designer yuppiedom, the the less important certain technologies, particularly communication technologies - i.e. ways in which people can get a hold of you when you'd rather be working on something of your own or just quietly staring into space - became to me.

To be continued.

Pic from My (almost) first cellphone is second from left.


  1. i've been enjoying your blog, just read your 3rd installment of this yuppie stuff and came back to this post. i have to say that the internet and technology have saved my ass. were it not for that i wouldnt have gotten my art 'out there' nor made the contacts and friends and on and on. my little blog has made me friends, and sold art. my website is my portfolio. i dont have to drive and waste gas to show my art to people. its a good thing. up until a few weeks ago facebook made me vomit just hearing the name of it...but i made a big push to get marketing and connected more and i have to say i like it. i dont use it to catch up on long lost people i dont care about...or to babble or give hugs. it is a network, a support system, a life line for an artist who is otherwise secluded most of the time and rarely interacts with others. i dont live in a city, so i depend on these things to connect me.
    having said that, i agree with having little, using less. take away my art, my supplies and tools and i'm left with next to nothing as i've gotten rid of my life mostly to be an artist.

    per your last post above, i agree...simplify is good but i'd rather have a cell phone than superfluous furniture and crap decorating a house filled with stuff. there is good and bad with everything. needing the latest greatest gadget is wasteful and just clogs up the world more.

    good stuff, i like that you challenge us.

  2. Thanks for your response and for hanging in there through all three installments. I know I tend to veer into a sort of preachy idealism, sometimes, which is as much to remind myself what's "important," as anyone else.

    And then there's the fact that life is always a fairly baroque experience, no matter how much we seek to simplify and focus. Plus everything is in flux and mutable, so trying to nail anything down to a few (supposedly) self-assured paragraphs can be akin to pinning the tail on a kicking donkey while blindfolded.

    In fact, I'm really not sure how anyone can write anything and fully believe in it for any great length of time. Even if the things around us don't change, we certainly do, on a daily and hourly basis. And, of course, things change, too.

  3. your last paragraph in this comment says it all. i get it, believe me i have my rants about it all going to hell in a handbasket and everything is preposterous and grotestque. then the next day its amazing and fantastic. guess you just hit me on a day i found the internet invaluable....and of course lately i could care less about it every again.
    keep on writing, it stimulates us all :)