In her new memoir, I Came All This Way to Meet You, the American novelist Jami Attenberg describes meeting a man who is not on any social media at all, and who therefore has no idea what it’s like to receive a like or retweet. Attenberg considers this state wildly unusual, not to say bizarre; she’s all over Instagram and the rest. But her amazement is tempered with what sounds like envy. “You goddam beautiful unicorn,” she writes of him. “What’s that like, being entirely self-validating? What’s it like to wake up every day and not worry what anyone else thinks?”
As it happens, I’ve spent the past 18 years of my life with just such a unicorn, though the man I’m talking about is – or was – an even rarer beast than hers. So, a guy isn’t on social media. So what? Lots of people aren’t. Facebook is for dinosaurs. The more important fact by far when it comes to my mythical creature is that, until three weeks ago, he did not, in a Britain in which around 87% of adults own a smartphone, even have a mobile. Not only had he never used social media, he had never sent, let alone received, a text. The exquisite torture that comes of WhatsApp and its blue ticks was entirely unknown to him, a man whose body is very far indeed from being hard-wired to respond to alerts. Nothing pinged in his pocket as he strolled along. When he was lost, he had to ask a stranger, not Google Maps. When he was out late, he had to rely on his legs, not an Uber. Calls? You’d be surprised. The last time he needed urgently to contact me while out and about, he walked into a hotel bar and, drawing on all of his great David Niven-like urbanity, casually asked a waiter if he might “use your telephone for a moment”.
Unsurprisingly, friends and strangers alike professed themselves astonished by this refusal to get with the programme (I mean the programme that involves being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week), their manner hovering between amusement and exasperation. Do you, people would ask sarcastically, still recite your number when you answer your landline? But I always found irritation the more interesting response, suggestive as it was of feelings of exclusion and hurt (“Don’t you want me to call you?”). Sometimes, it bordered on anger, a low-level rage that might possibly – I’m only guessing – have been connected to a sense of unfairness. While T had escaped the constant hassle, the stress and the surveillance, they had not, and never would. (Not that they would ever admit to this. Far too much – their entire existence! – was, is, at stake for that.)
What about me, though? At some point, eyes would inevitably glide in my direction. Wasn’t I the long-suffering one! How did I cope? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t sometimes annoying. A couple of months ago, I left a party before him only to find that I didn’t have my keys with me; I had to wait on the doorstep for an hour. I used to roll my eyes if he asked to use my phone, not least because I would then have to explain how to use it. “Useful, aren’t they?” I’d say, jaw clenched. But, like Attenberg, I was admiring, too. Such a refusal spoke of confidence and ease; in his stubbornness, he reminded me usefully of a past in which we all survived perfectly well without being contactable at any moment. His phone-less state also, I think, helped to maintain the privacy that is vital for peaceable coupledom. Even if I wanted to check up on him, I couldn’t, and he, in turn, had no interest in my phone because, well, phones were not something he cared about. I watched others being pestered by – or pestering – those closest to them and found that I was relieved to have been exempted from this regime, however unwillingly at first.
But the biggest benefit of all was undoubtedly to him – and this is where envy sets in. All that extra time! When people asked how he managed to write so much – in the first lockdown, while I stared at my tiny screen, he began, and finished, his recent memoir – the answer was blindingly obvious. Unlike the rest of the world, he never wasted a single moment wondering why someone hadn’t answered his last message; nor did he indulge in doom or any other kind of scrolling. For his time to be his own, he required so little discipline. His in-between times were calm and quiet, to be used for good things like reading or listening to music. Mine were – they still are – punctuated by incoming fire I’m seemingly forbidden to ignore (“Didn’t you see my email?”). My phone has the capacity to make me deeply unhappy.
But as you’ll have noticed, this piece is written in the past tense. At Christmas, T asked me to give him a phone and this I duly did, sneaking it into his stocking so as not to make too big a deal of it. What had penetrated his defences? I had told him a hundred times – usually as I printed out yet another boarding pass – that he was in danger of becoming disenfranchised in a world where the phone is the key to everything, and yet still he would not crack. In the end, there were two things. First, his beloved iPod was obsolete; he wanted to be able to use Spotify while he was running. Second, there was Covid, which requires so much paperwork, all of which is best kept on a mobile phone.
Outwardly, I was triumphant. “It’s for the best,” I said, in the level voice I reserve for these situations. But inwardly, something else was going on. My goddam beautiful unicorn was about to disappear. When the Christmas post went to pot, and not one but two sim cards went missing, and the shiny new phone could not be used, there was no ignoring it: relief rose inside me. A stay of execution for us both. Soon after this, the sim having finally arrived, there came a moment when I found him in an armchair, AirPods in his ears, utterly absorbed in the black rectangle in his hand. For how much longer would he remain a free man? Never such innocence again, I thought, mournfully.
But there is hope. Having spent all of his adult life phone-less, some rules have been set; some habits are hard to break. T is not your typical phone user, and perhaps he never will be. Only me and his sister have his number, and I’m forbidden to give it out to anyone else. The other night, a friend begged for it – the phone is the talk of our circle; everyone wants to be the first to break the long silence/ruin his life – and thumb screws having been applied, I relented. The friend sent a text, but there came no answer – not then, or for the rest of the evening. “It’s probably switched off,” I said. “What?” said the friend. “No one switches their phone off.”
Hmm. When I got home, I inquired after the text that had been sent. Had T received it? He proffered his phone, showing me his reply, sent the following morning. “Automated message,” it read. “This number is no longer available.” It was very convincing; he’d added dashes to the words “automated message”, and somehow this made it look official. “I feel a bit guilty,” he said, shoving it in his pocket. But his face, which wore a smile, told a different story – of a phone that is not quite a phone. Or not yet.
Anthony Quinn: ‘A bus ride is now a bedlam of performative monologuists’
People were often incredulous that I’d never had a mobile. They talked to me about it as if I were missing a limb or afflicted with a serious illness. But it truly wasn’t that difficult to live without one. Thirty years ago nearly everybody did, and life was fine.
Why, though? I suppose because I never wanted one. From the outside, looking in, I noticed the way mobiles changed everyday behaviour. Insidiously, the sleek pocket devil became what a pack of cigarettes was to a previous generation: something to occupy your hand, hugely antisocial, bad for your health.
At some point it became acceptable to interrupt a conversation by raising a finger and saying, “I just need to take this”; to place your phone on a dinner table and check your incoming, surreptitiously or not; to stalk along a pavement, head down, eyes absorbed by your screen (so I have to step out of the way for you?). I travel mostly by bus, which used to be a good place to daydream, to mooch, to worry about the next chapter of my book. Solitary mooching must be a cornerstone of any civilised society. Alas, the upstairs deck is now a bedlam of jabberers, droners, performative monologuists.
The dream was over after the pandemic. It no longer felt viable – or fair to Rachel – to have someone nannying me with NHS apps and Covid passes on a phone that wasn’t mine. It’s not all bad. No more trouble over entry at galleries, theatres, football stadiums. And I have Spotify when I go for a run – genius. For the rest, though, I’m hoping to maintain a low block on access. I don’t intend to give out my number. Email is the saviour. Honestly, I love my friends! I just don’t want them to call me – ever.
Rocket Lab has taken delivery of NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft at its New Zealand launch pad ahead of a mission to the Moon.
It’s been quite a journey for CAPSTONE [Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment], which was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab’s US launchpad at Wallops Island in Virginia.
The pad, Launch Complex 2, has been completed for a while now. However, delays in certifying Rocket Lab’s Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) pushed the move to Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.
The wet dress rehearsal for the launch was completed last night, prompting CEO Peter Beck to say: “Next stop…the Moon!”
“I always wanted to say that,” he added. Beck has long dreamed of sending his rockets beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and is planning a mission to Venus in 2023. However, the Moon is than the company has sent its rockets to date.
CAPSTONE is to be sent to a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, a location planned for the NASA, ESA, and CSA Gateway. CAPSTONE’s primary mission is to verify simulations that the interaction gravity of the Earth and Moon will make for a stable orbit.
The milestone was hit as Rocket Lab announced its first quarter 2022 results. Overall, the company made a net loss of $26.7 million, down from the $15.9 million loss of the same period last year, but revenues jumped to $40.7 million from $18.2 million. Most interesting was the make-up of that revenue. Space Systems (the company’s Photon spacecraft and the components it sells) accounted for a whopping 84 percent of Q1 revenue. Actual Electron rockets fared less well; during a call with analysts, CFO Adam Spice said that launches contributed just $6.6 million.
Going forward, the company expects second quarter revenues to be between $51 million and $54 million. It is including three dedicated launches in that figure (of which CAPSTONE is one). Two have already happened, and there is potential for a fourth, but the company has opted to take a prudent path and not include it in the figures.
As for CAPSTONE, it will be integrated with the Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft bus ahead of the launch window opening on May 31. The Electron will launch the spacecraft into LEO and the Photon will take care of the ballistic lunar transfer via multiple orbit raisings. A final burn of Photon’s engine will occur on the sixth day, enough to escape Earth orbit and send CAPSTONE on a course for the Moon. ®
A DCU Alpha spin-out, UrbanVolt says it sells power generated from solar energy at up to 30pc lower rates than traditional suppliers.
UrbanVolt, a Dublin-based clean energy company, has secured €36m in financing to expand its solar panel business in Ireland and the UK.
The funding includes a €30m asset-backed seven-year loan from Swedish credit fund PCP and €6m from existing funding partners, BVP and Beach Point Capital.
Founded in 2015 by Kevin Maughan, Graham Deane and Declan Barrett, UrbanVolt finances and installs solar panels on the rooftops of commercial and industrial businesses, selling the solar electricity generated to the businesses at up to 30pc lower rate than traditional suppliers.
The company said it also guarantees the price for up to 30 years, protecting businesses against rising energy costs for decades to come, with no minimum amount payable or standing charges – meaning that customers pay proportionate to their consumption.
“This is a transformational deal, which will allow us to scale at pace to meet the significant demand in the market while also streamlining the process of installing solar panels for our customers’ benefit,” said Maughan, who is also the CEO of the DCU Alpha spin-out.
“This first funding facility from PCP will see our project output grow by 20x over the coming years. It is also happening at a time when the demand for renewable energy is rising significantly given climate and geopolitical crises.”
The loan facility will be used to fund the installation of solar panels and related equipment on UrbanVolt’s primary target of commercial and industrial client sites in both Ireland and the UK.
It started supplying solar-generated electricity directly to businesses in Ireland last summer, since when it has agreed contracts with more than 60 companies and completed seven installations.
Maughan sad that there is “simply no compelling reason” for commercial and industrial operators to opt for traditional energy sources anymore, adding that UrbanVolt offers “unparalleled” price security and clean energy.
“By incorporating an ‘as a service’ business model, our customers only pay for the energy they use without a standing charge, and the cost of our equipment and its maintenance is kept off their balance sheet.”
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Digital investors have withdrawn savings in the “stablecoin” tether worth $7.6bn (£6.2bn) since the cryptocurrency crisis began last week, suggesting the company has paid out a sum almost twice its total cash holdings to spooked depositors.
Stablecoins are supposed to have a fixed value matched to a real-world asset, in most cases $1 a token. However, faith in the concept was rocked last Tuesday when another big player, terra, broke its peg to the dollar. That has fuelled a wider sell-off across the crypto sector, which relies on stablecoins for much of its financial engineering.
Tether, the third biggest cryptocurrency by “market cap”, experienced a short-lived crisis on Thursday when its value dropped from $1 to 95¢ as savers feared it would follow its fellow stablecoin terra and collapse. However, the token, which is controlled by a private company with close links to the crypto exchange Bitfinex, has since largely restored its dollar peg by honouring a promise to allow savers to always withdraw $1 for every tether they give back to the company.
The company only allows direct withdrawals of at least $100,000 for each request, and charges a fee of 0.1% on redemptions. Anyone with less tether than that minimum can only turn their money into dollars by finding someone to buy it from them – a disparity that fuelled the temporary collapse in value.
Despite the difficulties, according to public blockchain data, $7.6bn of tether has been reallocated in this way since Thursday. That is almost twice the cash that Tether had in its reserves at the end of last year, according to accounts published on its website.
Most of the rest of its reserves are held in “cash-like” assets, the majority of which are $35bn of US government debt and $25bn of corporate bonds. However, the company has refused to share any further details of the investments, with its chief technology officer, Paolo Ardoino, telling the Financial Times: “We don’t want to give our secret sauce.”
There have long been fears as to Tether’s ability to honour all redemptions. The company had once said it backed its currency with “US dollars”, a claim the New York attorney general said in 2021 “was a lie”. Now, it simply claims its currency is “backed 100% by Tether’s reserves”.
By contrast, terra was backed by a complex algorithm that required the value of a sister cryptocurrency, luna, to constantly rise in order to maintain the dollar peg. When the crash hit last week, the system went into a “death spiral”, automatically printing more luna, which crashed the price further, until luna lost 99.9995% of its value in a matter of days and terra was left languishing at $0.11.
The charismatic founder of the Terra project, Do Kwon, has said he wants to relaunch the currency. In a proposal posted to the project’s message board on Friday, he suggested wiping all ownership of luna, and redistributing 1bn new tokens, with most going to those who hold the stablecoin, or who held luna before last week’s crash.
“It is a hard balance – and no easy answers in redistributing value within the network,” Kwon wrote. “But value must be distributed to allow the ecosystem to survive, and in its current state it will not.”
Kwon also faces questions about how the vast sums of bitcoin that his project had amassed to back terra were spent. According to a breakdown shared by the organisation, it sold more than 80,000 bitcoins, worth more than $2.4bn, to unnamed parties in exchange for terra valued at $1 – at a time when the public price of the currency was under 75¢.
The jitters around stablecoins have combined with a general slump in tech stocks and the wider US downturn to trigger a wider crisis of confidence across the crypto sector. Bitcoin and ethereum, the two biggest cryptocurrencies, are down more than 10% over the last seven days, with ethereum dropping 17% to less than $2,000. Smaller currencies have, as always, been more volatile, with dogecoin falling 26% over the week.
Even some of the most vocal backers of digital currencies are now querying the promises of the sector. The founder of the crypto exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, said in an interview with the Financial Times that bitcoin has no future as a payments network because of the inherent inefficiencies of its blockchain, the public digital register that records its transactions. Instead, he argued, it could only function as a gold-like store of long-term value.