Hold the phones!

Bob's dinner
Facebook fad – taking photos of your food

Kiwis are the salt of the earth, that’s what people say. They might not know the derivation of the saying, but it feels good to pay the compliment when a Kiwi has done a good day’s work, done you a favour, or given you directions to Haast Pass.

The most recent example I have of their salty earthiness was in February, when I was about to leave Napier for Taupo, having failed to find my misplaced mobile phone. We looked everywhere. We rang my nephew and asked if perhaps I’d left it at his place the night before at his 50th birthday party. No appearance your worship.

So I was sitting in the hire car at a servo some 20 kms out of Napier reading the fine print of our travel insurance policy when my partner’s phone started buzzing. I answered it and here was this lovely laconic Kiwi lass informing me her partner had been out for a run that morning and found my phone lying on the grass (on the other side of the road outside my nephew’s house). She had looked up my log and called the last number I dialled. “Choice”, as they say over there. So we detoured back to this kind person’s place after first buying her a double movie pass gift voucher.

“Oh you didn’t have to do thet,” she protested. But I did, really. There are 1100 contacts in my phone and the fine print said I’d first have to file a police report (really!). The insurance claim was limited to $500 for any one item and then there was a $200 excess. So considering I’d just signed a two-year contract in December and the handset cost $895, I would have been well in the red.

We Asia-Pacific people have a full-on love affair with our mobile phones. The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) annual report tabled in Parliament in December 2013 says there were 31.09 million mobile services in operation in Australia as of June 30, 2013 (we number just 23.74 million, so it appears some folk have more than one phone.) This was just 3% more than the year before, which suggests demand is peaking. ACMA says 11.9 million people have a smartphone, which means they can use the internet.

As a result, 7.5 million Australians used their mobile phones to get on the internet last year. (You’ll note we didn’t say “access” because this column is trying to avoid misusing the language.) That was a 33% increase over 12 months and a 510% increase since 2008.

Meanwhile She Who reads Newspapers has just bought a pre-paid touch phone to replace the useless one that lived with who knows what at the bottom of her handbag.

”I just want a phone that’s a (*******) phone,” she is wont to say. “I already have a camera.”

You will get the picture when you hear that this is a person who buys phone credit $10 at a time and borrows mine as often as possible (I have a plan and 1GB of data).

Australians are downloading massive amounts of data on their phones – 676 terabytes in just three months! (A terabyte is 1000GB). Your average JPEG photo is around 2MB so now I’m curious as to who is downloading what and why. ACMA says 7.86 million people used professional content services such as catch-up TV, video on demand and IPTV (internet TV) in the six months to May 2013.

We are also adapting quickly to VoIP (you know, cheap video telephone where you can chat to your son while he is trekking across Mongolia on a recumbent bicycle), with mobile VoIP users increasing by 73% to 1.06 million.

Kiwis are also avid users of mobile technology. They call them cell phones over there and despite intensive research, the mystery remains why Kiwis use the abbreviated form of cellular. Like Australia, there are also more mobile phones in that country than there are people, according to global market research firm TNS. A 2012 report found there were 5.02 million cell phones in New Zealand (the population is 4.43 million). Almost half of Kiwis in the 31 to 40 age group own a smart phone.

These statistics do help explain why the salty, earthy people who found my missing phone so quickly trolled through it to surmise (a) this is the phone of someone who uses it for work and (b) how to track me down. As my trusty sidekick Little Brother says: “Good thing you didn’t have a password on it, eh?”

We were in Sydney recently to catch up with our best man. We met at a restaurant in Pott’s Point and settled in for a chat. Three young blokes came in and sat at the table next to us. They all produced mobile phones which they laid face up on the table. We soon realised these chaps had four phones between them. Much speculation ensued about the purpose of the fourth phone. Perhaps it was a fourth person who couldn’t make it to dinner but they’d chat, man. Perhaps it was somebody’s work phone. Whatever. They said very little to each other through the meal, but their phones glowed and buzzed and occupied their individual attentions. Our friend observed that when the meals arrived, they all took photos of their plates. Apparently this is a fad with Facebook friends of a certain age.

So there you are, 900 words later I have explained why this column comes with a photo of last night’s chicken and almond dish. We ate at the table with the TV off and both phones on chargers, avidly engaging in eye contact and conversation. The way life ought to be.