Not so long ago people went out for a long drive, even a cross-country drive, took a meandering walk in the woods, took holidays in faraway resorts and, you know what, they didn’t have a mobile phone and they weren’t even stressed out about being out of contact. OK, on that long drive the car might encounter trouble, maybe a flat tire or a radiator boiling over. Not the end of the world. You knock on a stranger’s door and ask to use their phone. No problem. That person at the door knew that they too might one day be in the same position. If lost in the woods, ask help from fellow trekkers or let forestry people know where you are going before you set off. On holiday, send a postcard to those near and dear, and leave something to tell them when you return.
In early 1993, I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan, setting up an international law office. I spoke precious little Russian and no Kazakh, and my office people instinctively wanted to cocoon me, to shelter me, whereas I wanted my independence, my free time. I didn’t want to be escorted everywhere, and I refused the offer of the use of our office driver to take me places in the evening or on the weekends. I am self-reliant and used to coping in difficult situations, having earned my stripes in countries like Poland and Yugoslavia where I had done a lot of work.
Of course I exercised caution but that didn’t stop me from participating in the night life of the city and going on out of town adventures during the weekends.
Then came the mobile phone. Not the modern, slender iPhone or a Galaxy model. No, no, this was a heavy weight job that I could barely fit in a large and loose pocket of a raincoat. And it wasn’t a digital phone as we know them today. It was an analogue radio phone and could be used only when it was in eyeshot of Almaty’s TV tower that stands on that prominent mound on the edge of town. Beyond a range of about 30 miles you might as well turn off the phone and save power in its very, very heavy battery. (I later bought a second battery, about double the size as the one that came with the phone. Then I could charge one while the other was in use. And the staying power of the large one was useful when I expected to be away from the office for much of the day.)
To charge that phone, it had to be placed in a cradle. There was no simple wire to plug in the wall, and no way to re-charge the phone while in a car.
After that my comfort level increased greatly while out and about on my own. I had a list of useful telephone numbers in my wallet, and the phone in my coat or a bag.
But there was a downside. It didn’t take long before I felt an unease, even a panicky angst if I strayed even a few meters from the front door of my apartment without my phone. A seismic change had occurred in me. Now I was more secure than before, but only with the phone. My rescue lifeline suddenly had become essential to my wellbeing. Activities that I felt quite comfortable with previously now became risky if I didn’t have the phone. In short, I had developed a kind of mobile phone separation angst, a new syndrome for the medical annals. Call it MPSA Syndrome. I had been in the vanguard of the new era of phone hugging, and that was before the advent of social media.
Book Sales: Find more stories about Kazakhstan from the 1990s and later in my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan. It’s available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Website: My blog posts go out on Facebook and often on LinkedIn. If you’d like to see them again or check for posts you might have missed, go directly to my website: viewkazakhstan.com