Formerly forbidden fruit…

asterixWhen at primary school, we’d visit the local library every two weeks. You could borrow up to six books, but only from the children’s section. This was good, as it contained all the Doctor Who novelisations and ghost story anthologies that I loved to read, but access to the adult and young adult sections was strictly forbidden. These contained the horror books that I craved, and also the comic books – specifically Asterix and Tin Tin. Marvel and DC were great for action, but if you wanted something funny and clever, then it had to be one of the aforesaid.

It’s taken about forty years, but I’ve finally got my own collection of Asterix books started with the first three omnibus editions that I received for my recent birthday. So I’ve matured (slightly!) since last reading them, but I’d managed to remember the names of all the main characters and the stories are still great fun (if filled with torturous Latin puns!). And, owning them now brings so much satisfaction after being repeatedly told ‘no’ at school. It was snobbery really – comics and graphic novels weren’t considered real books, and certainly weren’t recognised as literature.

Thankfully attitudes are changing…

Writing in coffee shops…

It turns out that people on their MacBooks in coffee shops are doing exactly what you think they are doing: What are people really working on in coffee shops?

OK, so it was in Dalston (for those outside London, it’s basically hipster central!) but there were no real surprises. Everyone is doing something ‘creative’, from trying to find a novel to go with the title of their novel, to writing haikus (is this real I ask, but then decide that it’s too real not to be).

Part of me thinks ‘Good on them for doing something artistic with their time!’ But this is admittedly a very, very small part of me. The rest screams ‘Twat!’ in the highest register possible in my tortured internal voice. I can do notebook-in-a-pub myself, but laptop-in-a-coffee-shop is just going too far. I can’t do it, even at my most pregnant with ideas; it just has to go into the notebook or the notes app on my phone (another reason not to get rid of it).

Maybe my cynicism is misplaced and East End coffee shops really are quiet generators of innovation and creativity. More than likely though, most of this crowd are doing what most people do: they desperately want to get that book written, but there are too many distractions to do anything substantive about it. But getting the laptop out and sitting in front of it is at least part of the battle: the real trick is to keep writing…

A phone-free day…

My near constant urge to throw my smartphone away resulted last night in me performing a factory reset in preparation for tossing it out of a train window. In the end, it just ended up being left on my desk at home as I decided to go mobile-free for the day in a fit of rebellious pique.

I did, however, have to deal with the consequences, but my reasons were righteous and manifold:

  1. I’m reading Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things, on the monopoly of businesses like Google, Facebook and Amazon, and their effect on both art and democracy. This has made me want to distance myself from these undeserving success stories.
  2. I have the deepening suspicion that my mind is atrophying at a fast rate, simply due to the fact that I no longer have to really remember anything when it’s all just a finger-press on a screen away from recall.
  3. My hatred of looking around to see every face buried in a smartphone. We are as atomised and polarised as a society can be at the moment, and I’m convinced that time away from this shackling technology would do us all nothing but good: we might talk to each other more, and we might be exposed to opinions outside of our usual news bubbles.

Of course, the first hurdle today was conquering the alien feeling of not actually having a phone in my pocket. As I leave the house, I habitually check my wrist for my watch, my right arse-pocket for my oyster card, and my left front pocket for said phone.This morning’s ritual check provoked an awkward pause as I went to venture forth into suburban commuter land.

And then, there was the wait for the train. I usually rely on a couple of apps to check on train and bus times and schedules, but these obviously no longer at my disposal. Oh well, I had to wait and put my trust in the notoriously untrustworthy dot-matrix indicator board. It roughly gets things right most of the time, but is often at odds with the announcements from station staff. Also, I didn’t have any news apps to peruse while waiting. I had a book to read for the journey, but again my habits were thwarted and it felt strange.

On arrival at the office, I experienced the novelty of booting up my computer to see my email inbox for the first time in the day. I usually received alerts to my phone and so know what’s going on. After checking this, I read the news on The Guardian and Independent websites over my first coffee of the day but still felt way behind the rest of the world – everyone else must have known about Donald Trump’s latest buffoonery hours before I did!

But the most severe pang of all came on my mid-morning visit to the loo, as sitting down for a bowel movement also comes with its own technological tic – that of reaching for my phone to browse the silliness on Reddit. Like most males, reading in the bog is just something you do. It used to be books, magazines and comics, but now we have smartphones to while away the time it takes to take care of business. And so, I had a shite in near silence, with nothing for my mind to focus upon but the toilet-roll holder and the back of the cubicle door.

It was hard, however, a the day wore on, I slowly adjusted to being disconnected and all was not as wrenching as I had initially feared. I was still able to function as a human being and I was still able to recall information – even if it felt initially like trying to start an old car that had been rusting in the garage for years.

The journey home too felt odd. Again, I couldn’t check train times, and when I popped into WHSmith to kill time at the station (after missing a train!), I couldn’t remember the name of the author of a book I was after – something I would usually have just googled from my phone without having to bother anyone.

The lesson
I kind of do need my smartphone. But I need to use it more sparingly and to change some of my providers and apps. I need to boot off the services that track my activity, invade my privacy, and delete apps that waste my time. I’d been hoping for an epiphany and a feeling of being unshackled, but really I just felt a bit discombobulated.

Perhaps I’m the problem and not my phone…