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Ben Harvey on the sweetest type of jam

This week Ben Harvey examines jamming…

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Now, I do realise this may well be a heretical thought to voice on this site, of all places, but I have to put my hand up and say that I think there are some occasions when mobiles are just a comprehensive pain in the arse. Not just at the cinema or a wedding, but mostly just when you can’t be bothered to listen to the cretin next to you in a bar or in a queue or on the train (Honestly; I’ve got no idea why I’m still going out with her).

I first looked into mobile jammers a couple of weeks ago, when I was struck by the thought that it would be a perfect little practical joke to play on the inaugural SMS Text News Unlimited drinks do – an event full of the brightest minds in the industry, with Ewan having marshalled entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers into one room by the simple dint of lavishing them with free booze. I made enquiries as to just how easy it was to get hold of a jammer, my intention being, of course, as obvious as it was childish.

Like most of my little ideas, however, this one never reached fruition because of the high likelihood of it killing someone. Since home-made jammers work by spewing out random bursts of radiowaves, this, apparently, can be slightly inconvenient if you happen to have a pacemaker because not only will it make your heartbeat peak and slump as rapidly as an X-Factor winner’s popularity but it will also stop your friends from being able to call for an ambulance.

There is also the slight consideration that walking around with what amounts to a small radio station in your trousers can’t really be doing your spuds much good.

Anyway, my research onto the matter led me to wonder – why aren’t they used more often? By the government, which is famous for not having any spuds at all? For example, recent weeks have seen the annual issuing of exam-results, leading with grim inevitability to the now-traditional debate about whether or not GCSEs and A-levels are getting easier.

It’s a superb piece of timing, by the way, because it gives a solid, newsworthy story to write articles and columns about at exactly the same time every year, coinciding nicely with Silly Season – when newspaper editors go on their summer holidays, leaving their publications in the hands of their deputies. It’s called Silly Season because you end up with stories like this, and with Parliament in recess it’s a godsend for idiot hacks groping around for stuff to fill a paper with.

Anyway, this years’ debate has had a new tint to it, courtesy of teachers who claim that the exam-halls are rife with mobiles, with the precious little children industriously googling the answer to every single question they’re asked. Now, such behaviour isn’t new – I myself was thrown out of university for cheating in my final exams; I was studying Philosophy and Metaphysics, and was caught looking into the soul of the boy sitting next to me. The thing is, if such a perfect method of cheating can be eradicated by plopping a little black box in the exam hall, why don’t schools do it…?

Schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, churches…it’s not hard to think of locations that might just benefit from having call-free areas (churches especially – also, celibate priest won’t even have to worry about their goolies being microwaved, will they). Anyway, it turns out that there is a good reason why we’re not all walking around with simmering nut-custard; it’s because jammers are rather illegal. They were pre-emptively outlawed by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, which banned anything that ‘interferes with the radio signals of another device”. And although British law does have some refreshingly eccentric nuances to it, such as the people of Chester being able, after dark, to shoot longbow arrows into Welshmen, it is still strange that we’re using a law that’s almost 60 years old to regulate a technology that’s only been widespread for about 20.

Playing devil’s advocate, though, we can’t retrospectively bugger-about with laws simply because they’re inconvenient, because that would play merry-hell with existing businesses (such as the Chester branch of Kevlar R Us, [proprietor – Dafydd Llewellyn]).

Legal issues aside, it all does tend to come down to the simple adage that – as much as we’d like to – we as individuals don’t really have the authority to prevent other people from communicating. Voltaire once fatuously said, ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – but he was French, which explains why he thought he was entitled to come out with such drivel.

Perhaps something a little more fitting for our cramped 21st century lives would be ‘I may not care about the conversation you’re having, but I’ll grudgingly permit you to have it, so long as you don’t even vaguely inconvenience or vex me, in which case I’ll find out where you live, break into your house and fill your steam iron with my wee”.

There you go. I guess that Metaphysics and Philosophy course was worth doing after all…

Read more Ben Harvey here.

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