Wednesday 24 January 2018

Colm Tobin: 21st Century Man

In these smartphone obsessed times, can our intrepid journalist undergo a digital detox - and survive?

Mobile advertising rates can be half as much as personal computers
Mobile advertising rates can be half as much as personal computers

Colm Tobin

Like most of you, I own a phone that is quietly ruling my life. It tracks my every move with GPS and repeatedly reminds me about events I'll never attend. It wakes me in the morning and keeps me up at night – the bright screen illuminating my drooping, exhausted eyes. We have become inseparable. Some days I love it; it feels like a natural extension of my being, a pocket companion. But other days I feel like I'm a willing volunteer in some Dystopian nightmare of my own creation. So I figured, maybe it's time to take a little break – or at least to see what it might be like to survive for a day without it.

8.30am: Cold turkey begins. I wake twenty minutes late because I've incorrectly programmed the 1980's radio-alarm clock I found in the the attic. It has an interface that's about as user-friendly as a Soviet tank and a booming, repetitive alarm that sounds like it was designed to clear San Francisco in the event of an earthquake. This isn't the best way to start the day, let me tell you. I miss my phone alarm already, especially its 'Ocean Sunrise' preset – with its relaxing mélange of lightly plucked guitar and Caribbean birdsong. How people managed to function using this other monstrosity, I'll never know.

8.35am: Usually, first thing in the morning, I'll reach for the phone to check the news headlines. It's vital, after all, that I keep abreast of every breaking detail in the search for Malaysian Airways Flight MH370. Not today though. Although I have a generally uneasy feeling – like I've forgotten something – I find that I can function perfectly well in the morning not knowing that Sterling is trading well against the Dollar. And the search for the missing plane goes on just fine without me, it seems.

9.30am: The commute feels strange. Instead of burying myself in my phone to check Gmail, or who's retweeting who on Twitter, or whose baby is looking the cutest on Facebook, I look out the window. There really are some incredible views from the Dart line. The Northside is bathed in spring sunshine and I can see Dublin Bay sprawled out beyond Clontarf. I'm convinced I see a dolphin leap out of the water and wink at me. Everyone else has their heads furiously buried in screens. One of them is cursing quietly.

11am: Work is fine – I'm online but I'm trying to stay away from anything too newsy. Twitter is right out. I feel an occasional urge to tweet – but instead I'm writing everything in a small leather bound notebook marked "Colm's Deepest Thoughts". Maybe I could turn these thoughts into a film script or a book instead of giving them out for free on the Interweb? What about that for an idea?

1pm: Lunch – I get a delicious salad box which I'm devastated not to be able to share with the world on Instagram. Curiously, I find that by actually eating it slowly and savouring the flavours, instead of trying to document it from every conceivable angle, I actually enjoy tasting the food. Who'd have thunk it? I take a walk in Merrion Square after lunch. There are trees and birds and stuff there. Lovely.

4pm: A strange thing has happened. I think time has actually slowed down. I find that there are great stretches of time where there wasn't time before. Like in the 1990s. Remember that? In the 1990s? When there was time?

6.30pm: The commute home is relatively serene. I enjoy overhearing the conversations on the train. A guy called John is desperately struggling to make up numbers for a game of astroturf football. Another lady is running late but she wants an unidentified man to cook her "favourite". When I go home, we make a curry and I speak to my wife for an hour. Neither of us checks our phone once.

9pm: After dinner, I spend a few hours reading. A BOOK. With pages made of paper and everything.

12am: The day done, it's time to turn my phone back on. I have a few texts, but nothing vital. There are twenty interactions on my Twitter timeline. But nothing vital. On Facebook all the babies are a day older.

So, all in all, it's been rather a success. I must say, I look forward to having Spotify back. And to being able to check train times again. And to be able to engage with all those hundreds of brilliant people on Twitter again. And to do all those amazing things you can do on a phone that would have been completely inconceivable even a decade ago. Saying that, I reckon I'll be switching off and tuning out more often.

Follow @ColmTobin on Twitter

Irish Independent

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