MY mind was jolted into action during a plane journey in 2008. Sitting next to me was the Celtic superstar Shunsuke Nakamura, the Japanese sorcerer who Steve Perryman famously said could “open a tin of beans with his left foot”.

Not on this flight. Beans had been replaced by limp in-flight shortbread and Nakamura’s feet were elegantly protected by a devilish pair of Evisu trainers.

He had the demeanour of a man who was not only in touch with the modern digital world but was way ahead of it and, on the basis of his clothes alone, he was a man untroubled by the cost of living.

As the flight prepared to land, Nakamura scooped his personal effects into a Burberry goalie’s bag and fastened his seat-belt.

Sitting between us on the arm of the seat was a vision of sheer beauty, an historic artefact that would have drawn gasps even from the most sclerotic Rangers fan. Nakamura had lain down a Hadoro, the diamond-encrusted iPhone 3G priced at the time at around eight grand and available only to the super-rich.

It was a phone, but not like anything I’d ever seen before, sparkling with the kind of conspicuous consumption that only gangsta rappers and over-paid footballers could dare to carry off. My old Nokia hid shamefully in my pocket never to re-emerge. Unaware of my existence, Shunsuke Nakamura was the man who triggered my interest in iPhones.

This month the iPhone has taken its first real battering. By almost every measurement it has been the worst four weeks in the history of the smartphone. 2019 has begun ominously for the Apple Corporation, a total of $75 billion wiped off the value of the technology group when a sales slump in China led to an uncharacteristic profits warning.

That was the headline, but there was more bad news. For the first time in the iPhone’s history, consumers were not trading up, unconvinced that the new models justified extortionate pricing.

What is not yet clear is whether the first demeaning month of 2019 was a blip or the beginning of the end for Apple. The smartphone is the most ubiquitous media device ever – combining the camera, the typewriter, the compass, the dictionary, the Ordnance Survey Map, the library and even the top-shelf of soft pornography into a handheld lifestyle device.

What was never anticipated when the smartphone’s popularity exploded was the disruption it would leave in its wake. We already know that mobile apps and online shopping have hurt the high street and that satnav has now become so prevalent that getting lost seems curiously quaint.

It doesn’t end there. The smartphone is changing much deeper patterns of our life, so we can be fairly sure it is already playing with our memory.

The National:

Ofcom, the communications regulator, has identified a strange form of memory loss attributable to smartphone use. This everyday dementia means many of us no longer remember our own phone numbers, which are buried in the digital engines of the phone and rarely called into conversational use.

This is in direct contradiction to the way we once fetishised numbers in the days when landlines ruled supreme. Many of us will recall friends who could recite phone numbers as if they were answers in a pub quiz.

One of my closest friends knew so many numbers it was almost his party piece when he reeled them off with such confidence you could have cast him as Mr Memory, the character in The 39 Steps.

Landline usage is in freefall. In 2012, the UK made a total of 103 billion minutes of landline calls – by 2017 that fell to just 54 billion, and it has plummeted again every year since.

Now the landline ringing is either the sign of a wrong number, an annoying sales pitch or an elderly relative still stuck in past practices.

Another seismic change awaits us.

Reports suggest that more and more people are reluctant to talk on phones and that the recent generation of smartphone apps – especially WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger – threaten a new era of disruption.

In its report Ofcom quotes one young man from Aberdeen telling canvassers: “Calling someone is a bit daunting. It’s much easier and quicker to WhatsApp my friends. If I have to call a company, I’ll always try to use webchat if it’s available.”

Another victim of the shift in culture is the so-called area code – the dialling code that located a city or a community prior to the actual number being dialled. Many consumers below the age of 35 struggle even to understand the concept, let alone remember area codes.

Years after it fell into disuse, it still gives me a warm glow of local pride to be able to recite my mum’s old number – 0173825705. It hardly rivals Alan Turing and cracking the Enigma code, but the 7 and 3 will always signify Perth in my mind.

As we wait impatiently for another independence referendum to be called, it is worth reflecting on what role smartphone usage will play in determining the outcome. Brexit has already left a bitter legacy of algorithmic mischief and it would be a naive fool who thinks the dark arts will not return when the Union faces its final curtain.

What we already know is that a gulf of everyday practice now separates older and younger consumers. Smartphones have led to a decline in talking on the phone and an upsurge in messaging.

While the Yes campaign has a head-start on new technologies and the use of smart-data and social media, it is not entirely clear whether the Yes movement has strategies in place to make a significant dent into massed and often silent ranks of much older voters, who remain the biggest barrier to change.

This is a generation still broadly content with landline usage, conversational phone calls and the traditional algebra of area codes. Of course, these are huge generalisations, but they are borne out by deep market research and raise substantial challenges to referendum campaigners.

There are still votes to be squeezed from the smartphone generation and so dialogue via chat messenger services and social media remains an important communications tool, but the more traditional forms of campaigning – whether it be a high street presence, chapping the doors and particularly patient conversations – are the ones most likely to make a decisive inroad into older and more settled communities.

I think we already know that angry barking on social media may be good for the ego and delivers the odd tribal victory, but it is not a great way to convert, or more importantly, to reassure. Reassurance is a stuffy, old analogue word, but it is one we need to be better at embracing to ensure we do not invite glorious failure.

I have no doubt that a broad and popular Yes2 campaign will dominate the smartphone arena, stride ahead on social media and give voice to the warm reverberation of echo chambers – but it cannot fall short this time.

BREXIT has taught us a lesson about the way that social and digital media can be manipulated in the context of a divisive referendum, but it may not necessarily be the lesson that the Yes movement needs to learn.

Channel 4’s Brexit drama The Uncivil War laid bare the inner workings of Vote Leave and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but it was a drama about reaching untapped voters through their latent sentiments, and may not entirely apply to another independence referendum.

We face a much starker reality – the demographics of age. If we convert enough of those people that still regularly use their landlines at home, we win.

It is as simple and as challenging as that. Reaching out to a generation that grew up in a world of party-lines, trunk calls and area codes will be fearsomely difficult, and smart technology may not be the answer.