Many Londoners have become hooked on sending short-range Bluetooth messages to strangers’ mobile phones. Unlike Short Message Service (SMS) – which allows for sending and transmitting text messages to known destinations, the Bluetooth sender does not need to know the girl's phone number. Bluetooth phones let the user search for other devices nearby and then send a saucy message.
Sometimes, the message is responded to in kind and the developing conversation could lead to a face-to-face encounter, a techno-phenomenon nicknamed Bluedating.
Self-confessed bluedating-queen Mammy Kufuor says it is a no-risk way of finding a partner: "It's quite a safe way to meet people, you can normally see them straight away, so if you don’t like them, there’s no damage done."
She remembers her first bluedate: "I just decided to send him a message out of the blue. I got a response and we agreed to meet up for breakfast. He was really nice, and we still see each other now and again."
And she says it is a growing phenomenon. "I've had quite a few people bluetooth me without me bluetoothing them, all over the country," says the 22-year old. "It's spreading quite quickly, I’m not sure where it started or who started it, but it's one of those word-of-mouth things."
Why are we so eager to date by remote-control? I decide to talk to relationship psychologist Dr Petra Boynton, and as I sit on the Central Line travelling across London, I scan my carriage for nearby Bluetooth phones.
"They lack confidence to go up face-to-face and say hello to somebody," she says. "The idea of having some technology to hide behind allows you to have a general chat, allows you to be rejected without it meaning so much – and often it's more anonymous."
I hurry back to the station. I’m getting the Bluetooth bug. On the train I search for more phones to connect with: *Baby S*, --James--, Nokia7210, Laura. I’m like a kid in a candy shop. A simple but not very adventurous "hi" finds its way to three nearby phones. It feels incredibly subversive. I've set three people's eyes wandering, trying to work out who the mystery sender is.
Bluetooth enabled devices allow for short-range communications without the use of cables and wires to other enabled devices.
But how anonymous is bluedating? Could I end up with a black eye instead of a blue date? From the message I sent, the only clue they have is my number. I'm safe. Completely safe - smug me sits, and wonders: which one of these beautiful girls is going to go out with me?
My reverie is interrupted when I hear shouting: "Zero-seven-nine-six-eight..." – a phone number being broadcast to the whole carriage. I've sent my number to a group of drunken teenagers who have just revealed one of my most intimate details – something that's almost part of me – to a train full of people.
It's that connection with our technology that sets us apart from every generation that has come before us. Our phone is not just a piece of plastic that we talk into – it's something that gives us joy, and makes us cry. It's the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing at night.
"Over the past 10 years people's lives have been changed immensely by mobile phones," says science fiction expert Andy Sawyer. "There are certain kinds of technology which have almost become extensions of our bodies," he says, "going out without your mobile phone is a bit like going out without your glasses."
Bluetoothing can lead to many
A few days later I get back on the train newly invigorated and with a cunning new strategy.
I send out my phone number with the message "Remember me?" The phone next to me beeps. I've just blueflirted with the passenger sitting right beside me – the person who has just seen me send a bluetoooth message. "No I don't remember you," comes a voice from my left. And as those words echo through the carriage, four other people look up. A wave of realisation sweeps over my bluetargets.
You can use your phone as a fig-leaf, but make sure it's big enough to hide your embarrassment. The game is up.
Eureka – a date!
But hours later I get an SMS saying: "No, I'm really sorry, I don't remember." I reply with a cheeky: "How rude – no idea?" The exchange continues, and I convince my "long-lost friend" that the only way she can repay me is by seeing me this evening.
It is seven o'clock in Oxford Street – a tall, dark-skinned girl is waiting. She doesn't recognise me. She feels conned, and I feel like a con-artist. But we chat, and she seems as intrigued by the phenomenon as I am.
As we part, I realise that my phone might just about be able to get me a bluedate – but it can't yet send me a bluerelationship.
I fall asleep with my phone at my side. It seems that's the only thing giving me any bluelove tonight.