Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 29/11/2004Deutsche Welle -- the German equivalent of the BBC World Service -- is running an odd story about phone companies and God. It's not about those strange messianic neuroses that so commonly afflict those in charge of large telcos, more about the strange synergy that exists between places of worship and mobile phone base stations.

Monday 29/11/2004

Deutsche Welle -- the German equivalent of the BBC World Service -- is running an odd story about phone companies and God. It's not about those strange messianic neuroses that so commonly afflict those in charge of large telcos, more about the strange synergy that exists between places of worship and mobile phone base stations.

The mystically inclined might put this down to a common desire to make contact across the aether, while the sardonic might mutter something about the services never quite living up to expectations and you never get the answer you need. It's more prosaic than that, of course: churches are tall and notoriously under-funded structures positioned near all the oldest and densest centres of population, often exempt from various layers of planning permission, while mobile phone companies are high-spending beasts desperate to get within cell-shot of as many people as quickly as possible. So the vicar gets a wedge of cash for the roof fund, the mobile company gets to put its antenna somewhat closer to God than before, and everyone's happy.

Nah. Of course they're not happy. People hate phone masts. They think they slowly cook the children -- if only -- not because of any scientific risk assessment but because they are New and therefore Scary. They think, further, that the masts are ugly, when any civilised, enlightened being would recognise them as some of the most glorious expressions of the human spirit since Duchamp's Fountain. Yet the customer is always right, right?

So Austrian company Industrieanlageabau has come up with a variety of disguised masts - deciduous and evergreen trees, for example, or chimneys. And for the church? A tasteful crucifix, with Christ on an antenna-infested cross. In place of the crown of thorns, a pair of jaunty Yagis, and radiating elements clipped onto the ends of the crosspiece.

I hesitate to delve too deeply into the theology of all this, but it's unlikely to appeal to the Protestant traditions which have largely dispensed with actual sculptures in favour of a more symbolic and unadorned cross. Other religions will also have problems adapting their symbols -- the Star of David is already close to a loop antenna, an efficient device but hopelessly directional, while the crescent moon more resembles a satellite dish in cross-section.

However, I can see a way forward. The evangelical Christians, normally conservative in outlook, may be persuaded to allow a little discreet antenna placement on their buildings if only the mobile phone companies allow a few bibles at their HQ. Perhaps a chapel or too -- but let's hope they draw the line at Prayer For The Day downloadable ringtones, eh?