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Me, myself and iPhone: how the mobile phone came to define who we are

September 20, 2021

In season four, episode one of the seminal comedy-drama, Sex and The City, Carrie Bradshaw tries and fails to host a birthday party. Aired 20 years ago, the episode sees a catalog of near misses and errors, which means that nobody attends Carrie’s festivities. All alone in an Italian restaurant as she is about to turn a year older, Carrie dejectedly heads home to find 14 messages on her landline answer machine: “Get a cell phone!”

Of course, were Carrie’s friends just as tardy two decades on, they’d now have more options to flag that they were running late: they could call her mobile, of course. Then they could text. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram (and even an email on the move) would also be options. It’s incredible to think the episode is just two decades old, but a million miles away from the technology we now enjoy to keep in touch.

In fact, the mobile device has had such a transformation on our lives, I couldn’t help but wonder: with so many other things coming and going, is the cell phone the love of our lives?

More than three-quarters (77%) of UK adults know their mobile phone number by heart, compared to less (73%) who know their mum’s date of birth, according to new research by Infobip. The findings examined how important our phones are to us in comparison to other parts of our lives.

So, what else did we find?

The survey asked British people about significant changes in their lives during the last 10 years – whether they’ve moved to a new house, bought a new car or mobile phone, changed mobile phone number, started a new job or romantic relationship, and changed their surname. The findings showed that the average person has had at least 2 cars, 1 or more jobs, 1 or more homes, and only 1 mobile phone number. This means that in the last 10 years, people have changed their home, job and car more often than their mobile number.

In fact, UK adults aged 35 and under have had a longer bond with their phone number than any romantic relationship they’ve ever had. The longest time that people aged between 18-34 have had a phone number is just over seven years, whereas their longest romantic relationship is six years. A lot can change around us, but our phone number is clearly something we want to hang on to; it’s part of our identity.

Businesses are starting to realize this too. They want to reach consumers when they’re most captivated – scrolling through their mobile phones.

But Brits would rather be contacted by an ex than receive a cold call from a business: 70% of UK adults would be annoyed having to deal with a call from businesses they don’t recognize, compared to 18% that would be annoyed by an unexpected call from a former partner. This demonstrates that many businesses are exploiting mobile communications to bombard customers with irrelevant calls and messages, resulting in mass frustration. This is especially important following a year where people have been relying on their mobile phones more than ever to communicate with family and friends, and to access services.

In fact, if we’ve learned anything from our conversations with the public, it’s that our mobiles are more than just tools. Yes, they are how we keep in touch, access apps and keep up to date. But the relationship we have with our phone is a crucial and personal one. They are constantly by our sides. They go wherever we go. And for most of us, they are the last thing we peruse at night and the first thing we scroll through in the morning.

So, back to Sex and The City. In the very last episode, Carrie ponders: “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.” And while that’s true, the concept of ourselves has been redefined: have we gone from me, myself and I to me, myself and iPhone?

Author: Sarah Anderson, Head of Marketing Europe at Infobip.


mobile marketing
customer communications