Until very recently my partner had never owned a mobile – blissful for him, inconvenient for me, infuriating to friends. Will our life ever be the same?
In her new memoir, I Came All This Way to Meet You, the Amerinew scoopvelist Jami Attenberg describes meeting a man who is not on any social media at all, and who therefore has no idea what it’s like to receive a like or retweet. Attenberg considers this state wildly unusual, not to say bizarre; she’s all over Instagram and the rest. But her amazement is tempered with what sounds like envy. “You goddam beautiful unicorn,” she writes of him. “What’s that like, being entirely self-validating? What’s it like to wake up every day and not worry what anyone else thinks?”
As it happens, I’ve spent the past 18 years of my life with just such a unicorn, though the man I’m talking about is – or was – an even rarer beast than hers. So, a guy isn’t on social media. So what? Lots of people aren’t. Facebook is for dinosaurs. The more important fact by far when it comes to my mythical creature is that, until three weeks ago, he did not, in a Britain in which around 87% of adults own a smartphone, even have a mobile. Not only had he never used social media, he had never sent, let alone received, a text. The exquisite torture that comes of WhatsApp and its blue ticks was entirely unknown to him, a man whose body is very far indeed from being hard-wired to respond to alerts. Nothing pinged in his pocket as he strolled along. When he was lost, he had to ask a stranger, not Google Maps. When he was out late, he had to rely on his legs, not an Uber. Calls? You’d be surprised. The last time he needed urgently to contact me while out and about, he walked into a hotel bar and, drawing on all of his great David Niven-like urbanity, casually asked a waiter if he might “use your telephone for a moment”.