On my walk around the park this afternoon a kid was throwing a temper tantrum at the side of the path.

His mum asked him “Why are you choosing to behave like that?” — which seemed like an unfair question to put to a six-year old kid…

I’m not sure it’s one that many adults could answer coherently at the best of times but somehow it’s ok to ask it of children when they are in the middle of a freakout?

No wonder kids get mad with their parents all of the time. 

…“You’re such a nice, intelligent, funny person when you want to be” she went on.

But the little guy was having none of it.

He said “I’m not nice” and then sidled off in a huff and that was that.

Who wants to be “nice” all the time anyhow? If everyone minded their Ps and Qs, followed the rules and the signposts and generally did what was expected of them, life would be a dull, predictable affair. If all those kids who told their parents they wanted to play guitar in a band when they grew up had gone and gotten a regular job instead, where would we be? In a world without anything but pop music? I don’t know. I don’t really want to find out though, that’s for sure.

I’m only able to tell you about this because I didn’t take my phone with me to the park today. If I had, I would no doubt have been sitting on the same park bench scrolling through one feed or another, instead of watching this little drama unfurl.

Stepping away from your phone is hard

I know because physically leaving my phone in another location is the only reliable method I have to disconnect from it at the moment. If I leave it by my bed the chances are that I’ll flick it on in the morning and starting surfing before my eyes have even opened fully. Sometimes after my 10 minutes of meditation I’ll automatically reach for the damn thing and started browsing away. Which I’m sure instantly negates all the good stuff that meditation does to your brain. Even with all of its notifications and popups disabled, the need to check my phone updates is so ingrained in my mental workflow that I can’t not. Or at least it feels that way. Maybe I should buy a second phone for the weekends which does calls and texting but nothing else. 

Everything in the park seemed more real today without the distraction of a phone and the possibility of taking photos or “connecting” with friends whilst I was there. (Another of the reasons I love riding a bike so much. It’s pretty hard to cycle and use a phone at the same time. Although not impossible).

Sundays is not my favourite day of the week right now. Give me a Monday or a Tuesday instead. Huh? What? Why? Well, I can cope perfectly well with being single on any day of the week, except on Sundays. So Mondays are easy. Tuesdays too. I actually relish the though of going to work at the start of a week right now. But a lazy Sunday morning isn’t the same on my own. Neither is a Sunday breakfast. Nor a Sunday lunch. I’m bored of cooking for myself, of eating with an iPad for company, of writing blog posts instead of talking to real live humans. Please send more humans. If you’re a female human in London, say hello. Seriously. I’m sick of online dating.

Anyway. Back to the park. Without my phone, I found myself noticing the smallest of details. I was alone watching everyone else doing their Sunday thing, but for once I didn’t care. I focused on other things instead. The way my big toe was rubbing through my sock onto the end of my boot. The constantly rearranging planes of objects in my vision, the view shifting as I walked along, the leaves layering up in new combinations as the sun glinted on a thread of a spider’s web as it slid towards the horizon.

I became calm and my hangover melted away. I even bumped into a friend and had a real life conversation (bumping into people isn’t something that seems to happen much in London).

The more I think about it, the more I feel blessed that the first decade or so of my life that I can remember happened without the internet. There were a few essays at school which I wrote with the help of a search engine, but that was it. I didn’t have a phone with me at school. I didn’t have the internet in my bedroom. I didn’t have the internet in my brain.

How are kids who have grown up with the internet their entire lives going to turn out? Well, we’re just about to find out, because these kids just became adults.  And one day, we’re all going to have the internet inside our brains. People are ready and waiting for it to happen. You can tell by the way they walk around staring at their phones, even as they go down stairs, up escalators, across roads. Being online is more important than your own safety or mental health. In the future when you go to the phone shop they won’t sell you new hardware, but new software, for the operating system implanted on a tiny chip instead your brain. (Now there is a design job that I’d love to have — designing actual human-computer interfaces. I’ve read a few sci-fi books that do a decent job of conceptualising how they might work but Google Glass is only the first baby step in exploring the possibilities here).

What am I getting at?

I’m not really sure.

But I can recommend mixing things up a bit.

From time to time, make it hard (or better still, impossible) for yourself to get online.

Don’t scratch the itch.

Itch the scratch. 

 


Posted to life in 2013.

Join 2,286 readers receiving my thoughts on life, design and making stuff happen each Sunday