It’s email. Not a life support system.


This week, for some people, the world ground to a halt.

I was sitting in the car listening to the news yesterday and heard a vox pop interview with a man on the street who was describing what he termed a “catastrophe”.

His BlackBerry had stopped working.

Yes. For close to six hours, this man had no mobile access to email or Facebook. This was such a serious problem that he had gone out and bought a brand new smartphone. "I won't ever buy a BlackBerry again," he declared. "It's just not worth the risk."  


If I was to draw up a list of things that a mobile network falling over IS, it might include things like: 

  • inconvenient 
  • disappointing 
  • frustrating

However, pretty near the top of the list of things that a mobile network falling over IS NOT, right below 'fatal' would be 'catastrophic'.

It's not a catastrophe. It's a moderate inconvenience. Get a grip. I know that some people don't agree (feel free to tell me why in the comments) but I can't bring myself to be THAT worked up about the collapse of the BlackBerry mobile data network. 

As an old person, I've experienced working in a time-sensitive industry (journalism) during a time when it was considered pretty flash to go on a press trip with a laptop, and if you also had one of those little slot-in data cards that let you dial into the corporate VPN from your hotel room at the end of each day, well, you were practically a visitor from the future. 

Yes, technology moves on and it makes things simpler, faster and more convenient. When stuff breaks, it's annoying, especially if you're paying for a service. But if my boiler breaks down for 48 hours, I don’t buy a new boiler or consider suicide – I put a jumper on.

I think it says something a bit sad about us if we can’t survive for a few hours outside of the home without the ability to check emails or update our status on a social network. Have we really become so helplessly de-skilled and plain old needy?

So you’re waiting for an urgent message from work – you could always ask them to phone you. Or send a text message. Or you could always take the reckless gamble that civilisation won’t collapse if it’s going to be two hours before you can respond to an email.

We were at the cinema this weekend and I did become THAT Mum, when I leaned over to ask the man in front of me to turn his phone off because it was distracting. He looked at me like I was asking him to chop off his kid’s head. Grrr.

Honestly? I am becoming increasingly impatient with people who spend their entire lives with their nose two inches from a mobile phone screen and act as though you've cut off their life-support if you ask them to turn it off. What is it you're so terrified of missing? Course, I laughed like a drain when the ad below came on, just before the film started. 

I’m a child of the 1980s. So I’m with Ferris Bueller when he reminds us: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. Vic
    12th October 2011 / 9:36 am

    Rather disappointed that I’ll have to wait to get home before I can see the video.
    I wonder if these people mourning the loss of their blackberry internet use have ever thought of desktop mail, browsing the internet on the computer or even just taking a few days off and enjoying the lack of demands by the online world? Oh sorry, I must be being stupid!

  2. wendy
    12th October 2011 / 10:12 am

    Great post I think we have lost sight of life pre mobile phones. I love Ferris Bueller and I think people need to be more like him as they are missing so much of life by constantly texting, etc. Time to put the mobiles down for a while and start getting a grip on reality again

  3. Heather
    12th October 2011 / 10:22 am

    *cough cough* Says the woman who checked her mobile phone several times during lunch yesterday *cough cough*

  4. Paula
    12th October 2011 / 9:26 am

    I am laughing so much at that video – it’s ‘like’ totally awesome.
    Obviously I never use my phone in the cinema, okay I do, but I at least dim the screen and hide the fact, and considering that 99% of the films I watch are for the 3-9 demographic I think that’s forgivable.
    In theory I agree with you, in practice I feel like my arm’s been cut off if I lose internet access. What can I say? I’m a geek….

  5. 12th October 2011 / 9:27 am

    I remember when I was a student at uni in the mid 90’s. You spoke to your mates and arranged to meet them. If they weren’t there, you finished your pint and either waited or went looking for them. We survived and even flourished. Without so much as a mobile phone.

  6. 12th October 2011 / 9:32 am

    You use your phone in the cinema? I am SO disappointed in you right now.

  7. 12th October 2011 / 9:33 am

    Exactly! It’s this idea like life must stop, and the wheels of capitalism grind to a halt that makes me laugh. Seriously? We did used to have lives, without the BlackBerry…

  8. 12th October 2011 / 9:36 am

    yes, I use it to tweet about the rubbish films I have to sit through…. am I making this worse?

  9. Nicki Cawood
    12th October 2011 / 9:51 am

    That is brilliant, rather chuckle-worthy to say the least 🙂
    I have to admit that looking at some of the later tweets and FB messages I was quite bemused by the drama surrounding the BB technical problems. People do laugh at me sometimes because (you may wish to sit down), I don’t have a smart phone, an iPhone or one of those horribly glitchy BB’s. My phone texts and calls. I work from home full time so if I need a computer there is one. I was asked recently by someone who remains aghast that I can’t pick up my emails on the move “What do you do if someone needs you urgently and you are aren’t at home?”. The only people that would need me urgently have my mobile number, they would be family, friends and the school. Anything else can wait.
    Granted, it might be more inconvenient if I worked away and couldn’t take a laptop etc but regardless, six hours? I can’t see why it would be earth-shatteringly hideous either.

  10. 12th October 2011 / 10:10 am

    Great post as usual!! I’m with Nicki all the way – and you on the cinena thingy. Sometimes peole might just as well be shining a ruddy torch around their screens are so bright. And I too, remember starting out life as journalist before Twitter, Facebook, smartphones, email, internet, mobile phones even. Hell, my first job used an electric typrwriter – it wasn’t even a computer. People get waaaaay too bothered over these things. *checks twitter just in case*

  11. 12th October 2011 / 10:11 am

    Obviusly I mean cinema and people. Stupid tiny laptop keys. Never had this problem with the old electric….!

  12. 12th October 2011 / 10:11 am

    Again, I mean obviously. Going for coffee. Carry on!

  13. 12th October 2011 / 11:01 am

    OK – I admit it, I love my phones. I have 2 – BB for work and an HTC for home. They provide me with the ability to work on the go and maintain contact with the grown up world when surrounded by small bits of child related plastic or being stuck in another part of the NHS. But when BB went down – did our world end? Er – no. The offending beast sat in the bottom of my handbag and ran out of battery and life went on.
    I’d like to think that perhaps someone last night sat down to watch a film with someone they love and shared the experience together – without a little light flashing notifications every 2 minutes and (potentially) annoying the person next to them. I think that would have made a better evening for all involved!
    I love my technology, but sometimes I think we need to reacquaint ourselves with the ‘off’ button and find out what’s really going on in the world around us.

  14. Chuckalicious
    12th October 2011 / 12:02 pm

    I help manage a network of Blackberry devices for the firm I work for. When out and about, these devices really are a lifeline for the team. We have clients who expect prompt service and prompt replies – of which we have been able to provide with the use of Blackberries. We don’t use them for Facebook or other social media, we use them to provide the best possible service for our clients wherever we are and so if something we rely on fails, it affects our business communications.
    At the end of the day, we’ve coped just fine as we have other remote access in place, but people do seem to be forgetting that the biggest user base of Blackberry devices is still the corporate sector.

  15. 12th October 2011 / 11:51 am

    I *knew* you’d turn up sooner or later and make exactly that comment. In my defence, yesterday was not a good day for me 😉

  16. 12th October 2011 / 11:54 am

    Yes, I think that inability to turn off and DO other stuff without interruption is pretty insidious sometimes. Yes, technology is great and I Tweet as much as the next woman, but being offline is good, too!

  17. 12th October 2011 / 12:00 pm

    Old person? You’re younger than me. Just.
    Have to admit I left my iphone (not Blackberry!) at home recently on a trip to London. I thought the world had ended and behaved a little like a lost soul in a world of highly-connected people. Convinced I had missed about 20 *really important* emails, I arrived home to discover no-one had tried to contact me at all. There’s a lesson to be learnt there me thinks.

  18. 12th October 2011 / 12:12 pm

    True but that’s why I mentioned working in journalism – just about one of the most time-sensitive industries there is, and we managed fine without BBs for many years.
    There ARE other ways of doing this stuff, as you say. And given that, I felt the “catastrophe” remark was just a bit OTT, especially after the guy had only been deprived of his emails for six hours. I sometimes get the teeniest suspicion that this whole “I MUST HAVE MY MAIL” thing is a way of making ourselves feel important.

  19. 12th October 2011 / 12:30 pm

    So THAT’s what was up with my Blackberry. I took the battery out thinking it needed a reboot. Then I forgot to switch it back on for several hours. Then OH JOY, it was working! Sigh.
    This weekend, I took my kids (13, 12 and 10) to Devon and we unplugged. No electronic games, no TV, no phones. I recommend it very, very much.

  20. 12th October 2011 / 5:26 pm

    Ok so it’s not exactly a global disaster but I can sort of understand where they are coming from – back in my investment banking days to be out of touch for a couple of days was virtual career suicide, you do need to be in touch 24/7
    But an epic disaster, no probably not

  21. 12th October 2011 / 7:02 pm

    And if she didn’t, I would have done 😉
    I must confess I get myself in trouble by checking my phone too often, and I get twitchy if I’m away from an Internet connection for more than a couple of hours. I would still not describe it as a catastrophe if my phone wasn’t working though…
    I do have a bit of a personal bugbear with email though. People take it as a guaranteed form of communication, and it’s not. If you really want to be sure someone’s got your message you need to talk to them on the phone, not email them!!
    /rant over

  22. Mummy Mania
    12th October 2011 / 8:40 pm

    I actually lost my iphone recently (in truth, I put it on the roof of the car, strapped the girls in their seats and promptly drove off. It’s currently forming part of the A54 in England as it is run over and over into the tarmac). Between getting back to Ireland, sorting out insurance and waiting for the replacement, I was without it for about 10 days. The first two I was nervy and agitated and seriosuly considered taking up smoking again after 10 years just so I had something to do with my hands, but eventually I got on with life and soon actaully began to enjoy it. When I got my replacement it was definitely without the utter joy I used to have…. now I put it down somewhere and don’t look for it again for hours…. abit of cold turkey is good for us all methinks.

  23. 12th October 2011 / 9:58 pm

    This is why I found out today that my governor’s meeting next week has been postponed – cos the clerk emailed everyone and assumed I’d got it. Good job I happened to wonder it was on and ask another governor!
    I’m with you, Sally. Having come out of IT, we know that failures are inevitable; but they are not the end of the world. They make life easier but the vast majority of systems aren’t life or death. And yes, I do check my phone, but yes I can put it down if I need to. I use it for amusement. I like that I can check my emails on my phone, but honestly? I rarely reply to emails on it. I use it for keeping in touch when I’ve not got the lappy on or out and about.
    On a similar but not totally related vein, I tweeted today that I wish they would stop playing sad mournful music when people are going to be knocked out of Masterchef. Noone dies. It’s just a competition and a tv programme at that.

  24. 12th October 2011 / 10:15 pm

    LOVE this post! And the video! I do think there is a real danger of technology taking the place of a lot of human contact, particularly in the (OMG I’m going to say it…) younger generation. Communication is more than just text-language. Talking face to face uses so many forms of communication on various levels, body-language, inflection and tone of voice, etc. There is no substitute for it and once those skills are lost it takes a determined effort to re-acquire them.
    Never mind the fact that it’s pretty pathetic to be dependant on any material item. That’s called addiction and you can get treatment…
    “Born with nothing – still got most of it!”

  25. NonChavYoungMum
    13th October 2011 / 12:17 am

    This made me laugh. I have a Blackberry but I don’t really know why, or even how to use it. My Dad asked me today ‘how I was finding it’ with the Blackberry network down- I had no idea what he was talking about, it text perfectly fine…

  26. 13th October 2011 / 9:38 am

    I’m so glad you’ve written this. Thank you. I myself have been guilty of constant mobile use: checking FB and Twitter like my life depended on it. It was only when I went on holiday and vowed to switch the phone off for a whole week I realised what a slave to my iphone I am. Well no more. I’m the boss now and ensure when I’m working/spending time with my child the phone is off and I feel a whole lot better for it.

  27. 13th October 2011 / 2:03 pm

    That Orange ad is chuffing hilarious!! I get very cross with myself at my – fairly recent – addiction to my smartphone and admit I did have a mini-panic when it stopped working the other day for all of an hour. What if something happens at school and they need to contact me? What if the husband texts me? etc etc etc. I do sometimes long for my teenage & uni years where we made plans, met up and did not panic at what awful thing may happen and how would we contact anyone! Sometimes modern technology is TOO much.
    Great post Sally x

  28. 13th October 2011 / 2:43 pm

    Totally agree with this Sally. Mind you, it took me a day to realise what was going on which was probably because I wasn’t working and was spending time with my lovely daughter. I think I might instigate a weekly switch off time for a half day. Quite sure the world would not stop.

  29. 14th October 2011 / 11:19 am

    I have this reaction to almost everything these days. People moan and I think “FFS, no one died!”
    When I was little, lie was ruled by being quiet while dad ‘phoned through’ a story and then waited for the call back to see if there were edits.
    If there had been email, I’d have had a few exra years of parent contact tucked in there!

  30. 14th October 2011 / 9:54 pm

    I was mildly annoyed by it, but primarily because my laptop died at the same time, in the midst of launching a new company – it was all a bit much… but primarily because we had no water in the kitchen for two days, and the plumber couldn’t come out because they couldn’t generate a ‘job number’ because it’s all done by BBM apparently. *sigh* I’m over it now though.

  31. 18th October 2011 / 8:11 pm

    Fab post!
    I love my iPhone and do check it far too often, but every now and again I put it away and really enjoy the fact that I’m not checking it all the time! I used to work with the Police in support of their communications systems and then I did have to be on call 24/7 just in case – and sometimes that just in case call / message did come at 2am. Often it was life and death though. I strongly believe that there are very very few jobs where that is really the case though. Any office style job where people and companies couldn’t cope with this sort of inconvenience really needs to think about the way that they’re doing business in my opinion. We all managed in the past.
    And as for the cinema. I was once watching a film (several years ago now) when a guy answered his phone mid-film. He went on to tell the person at the other end (and the rest of the cinema) that he was in the cinema and then went on to give a synopsis of the film so far and tell us all that he wasn’t enjoying it. Everyone was so stunned that they didn’t know what to say or do!