Sunday, January 14, 2024


The BT Tower, seen from St Paul's Cathedral

Leaving home for work as usual, I opened the BBC Sounds app on my phone to play BBC Radio 6 Music. Chris Hawkins has a brilliant weekly feature about people’s names heard unintentionally during songs, and as the time for it approached, the app would not load. Sometimes it takes a while, but realising this was taking longer than usual, I opened my web browser to stream the station via the BBC’s website. This also failed to load, along with any other website I tried.

Arriving at my bus stop, unable to check why my phone had no internet signal, I hoped the bus company’s app will let me catch the bus. Restarting my phone did not re-establish any connection. Fortunately, I was able to carry on my journey, as whatever codes needed for the app to work today must have downloaded previously.

Unaccustomed to travelling in silence, and with my MP3 player at home, I was resigned to listening to music saved to my phone before the near-unlimited choice of a music streaming app made purchases rare. I compromised with the Muzak Corporation’s “Stimulus Progression 5” background music album, various songs by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and the reworked version of David Bowie’s 1987 “Never Let Me Down” album released in 2018, an interesting exercise that could still have been left alone. Listening to the sublime original “Rawlinson End” piece by Vivian Stanshall, I thought of looking up more information about it, then had to sit there realising I could not – I couldn’t leave my bus to work to stop at a library.

Finally logging into my work computer confirmed that Vodafone, my mobile network, had an outage of their 4G and 5G internet networks, but not phone calls and text messages – Vodafone introduced text messages to the world, so maintaining its use must be a point of pride. I thought the internet came back just before starting work at 9am, but this was after going to an area of the building with poor reception (the staff toilets) caused my phone to search out the still operating 3G network instead. This network will be phased out by Vodafone during 2024 to bolster 4G and 5G reception, a good idea in the circumstances, but GPRS (General Packet Radio Services), introduced in 2001 and still used for calls and messages, will remain.

Cybernetics is a subject I plan to discuss in greater detail in coming weeks, but nothing serves to focus your mind on the science of control systems, communications and technology than being temporarily kicked out of such a control system. As much as I would like to think I could live without the internet, I have surely arrived at the point where any period of disconnection will cause frustration. Its initial usefulness became a welcome extension of myself, and it may be time to properly make sense of that.

Everything was back to my new normal by 11am, and I listened to Chris Hawkins’ radio feature during lunchtime.

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