I’m on a 19 bus across town. It’s a beautiful spring evening, if a little chilly. It’s London. There’s so much variation, streetlife, colour. And yet since my friend disembarked five stops ago all I’ve done is cycle through social media on my phone. There’s the beginnings of a sunset struggling through the clouds to my right. All the Londoners are free from their chains for the rest of the day. If I look out of the window even for a moment I see massive variety in this crackling mass of people. So many different stories. They all have their way of walking, their gestures, their tics, their pain, their happiness. I could easily spend the journey observing, wondering, enjoying, extrapolating, dreaming through them.
Instead I’ve been consuming other people’s lives through my phone. It’s a malaise. I say, even though you might be doing the same with mine. These devices are amazing. It’s great how social media helps us stay connected with people we shared joy with once. But if I’m not careful I can get stuck in a consumption spiral. I suspect it must be the same for many people.
As someone who frequently makes grand gestures, I suppose I could just cut it all out for a predetermined period of time and come back with a different view on it. I’m wondering if that’s necessary, however. Surely there must be a way of regulating it – catching it when we get in a spiral. Some people can multitask and read their phone while having a conversation. If I look into my phone it slurps me into itself right away. If I’m with someone they usually immediately notice I’ve vanished and hound me back.
My nephew has made an app which nudges you when you’ve been on whichever site is your poison for too long. You can set the limit. “After 40 minutes on Facebook, nudge me.” I haven’t downloaded it yet so I have no idea if it works. But the fact he made it gives me pause.
When I was 18 only dickheads had mobile phones. “What are you expecting that’s so important it can’t wait until you’re home?” Expectation and culture has shifted now though. “If i don’t reply to that email quickly that job might go elsewhere.” It’s fucked though if we’re constantly messaging Tom while sitting with Dick and Harry, and messaging Dick and Harry when sat with Tom. But a lot of us are.
We need a code of etiquette. Technology has overtaken manners. There’s no commonly accepted social code apart from “Put your phone away” “But I’m waiting on a job!” “It can wait.” “No it can’t.” When I’m on my own though? I guess we have to parent ourselves. I don’t have much of a television habit, as I was strictly regulated as a kid to the extent that it exists in my unconscious as an occasional luxury rather than an essential wind-down. I think I’m going to try and throttle back my consumption as if I were my own parents regulating me, and break the hand to phone instinct. I can wear a watch. I can wait a little while for the news that Spielberg wants me to have his baby. When I finally acquiesce he’ll be all the more excited. I don’t have to cling to every buzz in case it’s the buzz that will solve my money worries. I’ll make that buzz myself and I’ll choose when I do it.
Meanwhile that was my bus stop. I am now walking down the street writing this. There could be a dragon in the sky above me for all I’m aware. There might be a herd of engineers. Or elephants depending on your typing app. Time to put this in my pocket, look at the sunset and muse on what has been a good solid inconclusive ramble.