Ooh missus, get a grip on my notifications

My messaging apps are spouting lines from a Carry On script

Something for the Weekend, Sir?


This was, as alert followers of my column may recall, the first SMS text message I ever received on my first ever mobile phone, sometime during the last century.

I did not bother to find out who sent it to me. It was a wrong number, of course... but not knowing with absolute certainty ensures that the message remains as enigmatic and memorable today as it was unexpected at the time.

Like a fool I deleted it. What I should have done is photograph it, print it and frame it for posterity. (Taking a screenshot was out of the question back then: you couldn’t screengrab a three-line LCD readout any more than you could screengrab the sale total on a 1930s cash register.)

Certainly, it would have made a compelling addition to the annals of mobile computing. Just imagine Neil Papworth in December 1992, sitting down at his computer to send the world’s first ever SMS message to his boss and, on a whim, backspacing his original text MERRY CHRISTMAS and typing in its place YOU LOVE IT YOU SLAG.

Since those heady days of having to keep deleting one’s SMS history to free up phone memory – you could keep only 20 messages before it became full – I have become very lax in tidying up text conversations. There are now tens of thousands of them just sitting there, practically none of which have any personal use let alone historical merit. Indeed, roughly 90% of those sent by me simply say OK or My train arrives at 9.30.

Unlike celebrities, I do not use my smartphone for conducting illicit affairs. Unlike politicians, I do not use my smartphone for sending constituents photographs of my nob. With the exception of that very first SMS, my phone is utterly lacking in excitement or intrigue.

Until very recently, that is.

The problem began in my home office while I was bouncing ideas back and forth with a remote colleague via some instant messaging app or another. Half-life, who shares the office space, was finishing off some translation work and announced that she’d be going out for a couple of hours.

“Righty,” I acknowledged, fired off another message and sauntered off to the kitchen to make a coffee. My phone bleated that a new message had been received. When I walked back into the office, Half-life was leaving with a puzzled and distracted expression on her face.

On my desk, my phone was illuminated with the message:

Great. I’ll be there in 5 mins

Oh brilliant. Reading that, she might think I’ve invited someone over while she’s out.

What am I supposed to do? Run after her an explain that my correspondent is a colleague currently in New York and we had been discussing last-minute ideas for him to take to a meeting with a potential client whose downtown location he expected to reach “in 5 mins”?

Then again, blurting out a fussy explanation that hadn’t been asked for might make me seem even more suspicious, as if I was trying to cover tracks.

A colleague in New York? Yeah, right. And that conference you said I’d find too boring to accompany you on? Now it all comes out, etc.

In my head, I had inadvertently become the star of my own sitcom. At that moment, the in-laws turned up unexpectedly at the front door, and my trousers fell down just as the vicar walked in.

Dismissing the daydream, I determine that the thing to do is ensure the entire message conversation is preserved forever, just in case. Anyone who wishes to trawl through my history will be able to read the full context of such isolated statements, and find neither chat-ups with floozies nor photos of my nob.

However, I have now begun to see ambiguity in almost every notification that pops up on my handset. Worse, they always arrive when my phone is lying on a desk unattended.

During a conversation with an editor about the relative merits of writing a short or long article on an agreed subject, I put my phone on the coffee table next to my wife and stepped away for a few seconds, only for it to go “ding!” and illuminate with this classic:

I love your long one - can’t wait to get hold of it

Brilliant, I’ve progressed from sitcoms to Carry On films.

Just as bad was the culmination of a quick chat about adding an extra blurb in some advertising material, leaving my unattended smartphone glowing with:

Next time UR over I’ll let you insert it, promise

Even Half-life got into the act once by sending me a reminder while she was out that I should remove my pile of laundry from the airing shelf, thus:

Ali, could you take your clothes off?

Another recent one came from an ex-workmate who’d long ago left the country to seek his fortune abroad. As usual, the message turned up while my phone was out of reach. Luckily, Half-life was there to hand it to me. The message read:

I’m in town. Call me. X

Oh dear. I do keep nagging Xavier to stop using his initial as a sign-off but he persists. A crowd of old fellows went to meet Xavier for drinks, and the next morning, this popped up on my phone:

Last night was fantastic! X

Ker-rist on a bike. He’s like British prime minister David Cameron, who famously used LOL in his SMS texts to Rebekah Brooks thinking the acronym stood for “lots of love”. Just imagine what amusement you could generate by sending texts under this misapprehension, such as:

I hear you’re feeling a bit down today LOL


Sorry to hear about the loss of your mother LOL

To compound things, Xavier thinks he’s funny. His avatar image on this messaging system is a photo of some duck-pouting, horse-faced individual that he found in a random search. This means after I persuaded a reluctant Xavier to attend a press event with me, he expressed his gratitude later on by sending me this:

Fake message to Dabbsy from Xavier

Thank goodness I have my phone with me at work, I thought at the time. It was only when I got home that I realised that the same notification must had pinged across all of my other devices around the house in a cacophonous multiple orgasm of Finbar Saunderesque digital ejaculation.

Enough of this. Xavier, you are a twat. Notifications are switched off for good, now.

If anyone needs to get in touch with me in a hurry, from now on please write me a letter and send it by First Class post.

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He hasn’t really switched off notifications. Nor has he a friend called Xavier. Also be aware that he never responds to messages that fail to employ adequate punctuation.

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