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July 08, 2005

Note to a young person in a terror target city: it wasn't about you - so there was no need to get in touch with everyone you know

Posted by Richard D. North

Richard D. North - author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence - offers some advice to a young person in a terror target city: let go of that mobile phone.

Yesterday you were the target of terrorist bombs. Doubtless, you are a good deal braver and nicer than I am. But I have been thinking about stuff which might be relevant, and so I've presumed to produce a note. It concerns why, on 7th July, we all got in touch with everyone we knew.

1. This isn't about you (Part One). In a very general sense, of course it is. The terrorists want you to be frightened. On the other hand, figure the odds: 3 million people milling around central London, and around 700 casualties (some of them beyond all help, most getting it, some needing very little). You do the math.

2. When there's a disaster near you, stay off the mobile phone. It is very likely the system is needed for calls more urgent than yours.

3. Get your parents (out there in their suburbs, etc) to agree (before the next outrage) that they also will stay off the phone when it does happen.

4. Yes, let's say "when". It helps create a better attitude: watchful but phlegmatic. We had no business being shocked or surprised by the events of 7th July. They were very likely to happen (with or without the Iraq war, one may say - but that's controversial, which I don't want to be).

5. Why is all the contact unnecessary? Because you're either unscathed by the bombings, or being looked after. That is: you either don't need help, or the help of those who love you is no use.

6. This isn't about you (Part Two). We need to stop obsessing about our families, our loved ones and our friends. That's a general remark for our times, but never truer than in moments of disaster. It's natural, but it's getting out of hand. The people who needed our thoughts and help yesterday were the victims whoever they are: in the hours around these convulsions we need to raise our game to a generalised concern for those known - but crucially those unknown - to us who are in trouble.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence. He is also the Editor of

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A counsel of perfection... I'm sure Richard North wouldn't care to be judged on his behaviour when in shock, which is what led to all the calls yesterday... what people need at this time is not merely to know that their loved ones are OK but also to connect with them... which is what the authorities knew when they rightly decided not to curtail the use of mobiles more than was operationally necessary.

Posted by: Innocent Abroad at July 8, 2005 01:07 PM

as well as being braver and nicer than Mr North, they may have better manners and be keen to stop elderly parents from worrying.

Posted by: s masty at July 8, 2005 03:41 PM

I usually enjoy reading what the Social Affairs Unit published - but this is just a crass, vile, mean-spirited comment by Richard D. North. Shame on you - Richard. And the SAU should have thought better of publishing it.

Posted by: Antonia at July 9, 2005 06:55 PM

This Richard D. North fellow seems to have a quite extraordinary facility - I have read his various articles on the SAU site - and have indeed read his brilliantly titled book - "Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence". He has some very good provocative ideas - and others that are plain daft, such as this. But this is not the facility I am writing about. What he does manage to do is use 3 paragraphs, indeed in his book 3 pages - to express an idea which could be expressed in 2 lines. But he manages to convey these words with great elegance. I have never before come accross a writer who says so little in so many words with such elegance. A bravura performance - although one is soon satiated.

Posted by: James Samuel at July 10, 2005 07:09 PM


Posted by: Deborah at July 10, 2005 07:12 PM

I agree with the principle of keeping the lines clear for those who need them most but think Richard North has underestimated the need of people to assure and be reassured of each other's safety. The two recommendations made by the emergency services, mobile phone networks and so on seem to be the best:

1. Put an entry in your mobile phone directory entitled ICE (In Case of Emergency), followed by your emergency contact's name and number. If you are incapacitated but your SIM card is functioning, someone can call them on your behalf.

2. Send a text message instead of calling worried friends and relatives. This uses up far less network volume and is automatically queued up to allow priority calls to get through instead.

I think this would have achieved Richard North's desired result as well as satisfying some of the annoyed posters above.

Posted by: Freedmanslife at August 16, 2005 10:34 AM
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