This is a thought inspired by an experiment I did a few years back, and by the Absolutely Fabulous (groan!) Joanna Lumley.
How often do you walk down the road with earphones in?
About seven years ago, I did every day. And it was worse than that for me – my rucksack was often filled with tech as well. I had my MP3 Player. My mobile phone. My Game Boy Advance. A laptop. Usually I’d even have a calculator and an old-style LCD game in there as well.
I was a walking tech-head. And so often, I would get on a train and merely time when to get off, involving myself in music, or a game, or my laptop with a variety of things on the go.
Then of course I was challenged by a pen-friend on the internet, who was forty years my senior and I always called “Momma”. She didn’t quite understand my dependency on gadgets when going to the hospital, or going shopping, or going out with friends. “Do you even know what towns you pass on the train?!” she’d ask.
After some dialogue, she asked me to spend a week leaving my toys at home, and taking only the absolute basics I needed to survive. This included leaving my mobile phone at home.
I thought, at the time, this was going to be awful.
The week that followed, as it happens, was rather more eventful than I had anticipated. Without the earpieces, the people sitting next or opposite me on the train said hello; and began to have a conversation with me. Interesting people too – a nurse on her way to the same hospital I was headed to, and we walked from the train station to the hospital together. I still e-mail her regularly. In shops, without all the wires, the store assistants approached me in a way they never had before; asking what I was looking for, what my tastes were, what I enjoyed. People I had passed many times said hello and I was finally able to say hello back, rather than rudely be too preoccupied to do so.
The first couple of days weren’t easy. I was humming music. I was a bit twitchy. But that passed, and eventually I started seeing my usual paths in ways I never had experienced before; there was a lovely little cottage on the hillside near the train station; a bit run down, but still charming. I imagined what life would be like in that cottage; living there, looking down on the busy train station and people going about their daily lives.
I began to pay attention to the stops, the places the train would stop at, and a few weeks later I even realised that a small place called Par had a great indoor market; I ended up visiting it, and had a very nice day.
And I noticed, oddly, that I was not the only one who was buried in my phone all the time. A lot of people ran around with earpieces and phones wedged to the side of their faces; doing the same thing I had done, and noted as people tried saying hello or waving to them and they wouldn’t respond in kind.
It hit me. This tech was a bit blinding. More to the point, this tech was actually a bit RUDE.
I still love tech, but I learned a valuable lesson in that week; there is a lovely world out there, with friends you may not have met yet, with sights and sounds that are interesting and just as stimulating as any music you could play, or any game you could fiddle with on the journey. There is a world out there; just as fantastic as any game world, filled with interesting people and places. It is taking the time out from the sensory deprivation that so much technology provides and seeing it once more that is both inspiring and uplifting.
These days, I still have my gadgets; but I leave them at home. My rucksack these days contains a file with all my literary work, a water bottle, a small towel and my mobile phone – without earpieces. And it is no longer a contract phone; I bought a good smartphone, outright, and keep it on pay as you go. For emergencies and when people need to contact me.
I am often reminded of this week because I see people doing the same thing; they tweet on the go, still call friends, update their Facebook pages on the fly, fiddling with their little gadgets to contact people miles away and yet totally ignoring the people who shout out a simple hello, or try to stop them to catch up on the latest gossip.
Tech is lovely. I love tech. I love gadgets. I always will.
But there comes a point where I think we’re missing the bigger picture. Tech is not a substitute for human interaction; the tactile and sensory feedback of hugging someone and being joyous in meeting them, and talking one to one, face to face. More and more people are cocooning themselves in a bubble; a sensory deprivation chamber.
To these people, I challenge you too to go a week without your gadgets. One week. Do your normal everyday stuff, work and social events and clubbing or going out to dinner, but leave your gadgets at home. Look around. Say hi to people you know, or good morning/afternoon/evening to those you often see on your journeys. You may be surprised at what happens.
Tech is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I adore it, but sometimes we do need to see that it is as much a curse as it is a blessing.
It’s using tech responsibly and in the right ways that means the most – and not being so addicted you blind yourself to the wonderful chances and strangers and places you may pass every day and not realise it.
There is more to life than gadgets and gizmos.
And that coming from a tech-head on a gaming blog. Surprising, no?