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14 November 2011

I am leaving the phone at home

What might it be like to wander around without anxiously looking at a screen every ten seconds? I wo

By Steven Baxter

I am leaving the phone at home.

Those words are easy to write, but not so easy to carry out in practice. But I think it’s worth a try. Since I’m on holiday this week, I thought “Why not?” — and so, I’m going to give it a go.

I was made redundant in the middle of June, since when I seem to have slipped into a familiar pattern of gazing at a screen for hours on end. Not that I didn’t do that at work, you understand; but at least I was getting paid for it then. I’ve taken work home, and now I’m doing it for nothing. Work shouldn’t be a hobby. Hobbies shouldn’t be dull, like work. But there it is: my hobbies seem to consist of gazing at a set of characters on a screen, almost all day, every day.

It’s got bad. I’ve started to venerate Martin and Lucy out of Homes Under the Hammer as gods in a strange duotheistic religion I’ve created. It largely centres around buying property at auction and ensuring that you don’t forget to read the legal pack, but other than that it’s a fairly straightforward new religion. I’m the only devotee, as far as I’m aware, but I keep the flame burning every morning at 10am without fail. The pair of them have become such significant figures in my poor puggled unemployed brain that I’ve begun to look forward to their daily presence as one might the arrival of workmates, or friends — and the ritual of communion with these two property doer-uppers has led to me seeing them as worshipful, all-knowing beings.

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Television, though, is not the only screen to which I bring my gaze every day. I have a phone, which I look at all the time, as well. And this: the screen I’m looking at now, the PC screen. If I’m not looking at one, I’m looking at another. Sometimes I’m looking at Twitter on my PC, while simultaneously reading tweets on my phone. Sometimes it feels like there’s no point in watching TV without tip-tapping away on the tiny BlackBerry keys in order to tell the world that I’m watching the thing I’m watching, and that my opinion on it is X, Y and Z.

How did it come to this? Whatever happened to looking at things with your eyes, and just enjoying them for what they are? Is there no way we can simply sit through a TV show now, without telling random people on the internet what we think about someone’s hair or who they vaguely look like? Apparently not. I can see the idea of the virtual community being more pleasant, less odorous and easier to shove out of the house when you want to get some sleep, but I worry there’s a stage at which this all might lead to some disconnect with reality.

I remember looking at things. You know, just looking at them, without having to see them transformed into zeroes and ones on a small LCD in front of you to verify their existence. I remember when you could just go and see stuff, and enjoy it for what it was, without the necessity of a tediously framed and set up digital record; or going to gigs without having to film ten blurry, jerky seconds so you could prove you were there.

I don’t want to come across as a grumbling old Luddite railing against the modern technology that allows me to write a blog or stay in touch with my friends in the “meatspace”, or real world, more than I could ever have done 10 or 15 years ago, but there it is. I just wonder what it might be like to wander around without having to anxiously look at a screen every ten seconds. I have a feeling it might be some kind of liberation, and worth doing. So I’m going to give it a whirl.

I’ll send you a text to let you know I’m all right.