I recently got back in touch with an old friend – someone I’d not seen in 10 years – and it got me thinking about how we stay in touch with people and why we sometimes don’t.
In this modern world of over-connectivity, it’s a wonder we can lose touch with someone at all. I predict that it won’t be long before a permanent digital connection will be made upon the first handshake with anyone we meet and we will have to seek special permissions from the powers-that-be to ‘unsubscribe’ from this ‘service’.
Anyone who knows me will know that I have rejected the smartphone for as long as I can but it is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more services and everyday tools become digitalised.
When I visited Singapore for a few days, with my pink slide-up Samsung C3050, I waited and waited for my O2 Roaming texts to arrive welcoming me to Singapore and letting me know how much calls and texts cost from said country. Those messages never arrived. In fact, I didn’t receive any messages at all. I couldn’t understand why, in such a modernised and progressive country, I couldn’t get any phone signal.
So I Googled it. I found out that the necessary service required for a device as old as mine was called 2G, and that Singapore had ‘switched off’ their 2G service some 12 months prior. My trusty handheld mobile telephone device had become obsolete. My worst nightmare. The relentless momentum of the Digital Revolution is reaching a stage where smartphones are not a luxury, or even a norm, but a necessity.
Video calls, which we all knew would be a possibility one day, started out pretty ropey. Poor internet and early technology meant that video calls with remote friends and family were an endless battle of stuttered video feed, unattractive frozen screens and staccato speech. These days, I can video call my little nephew and instead of him telling his favourite Aunt what he’s been learning at school, he is gleefully transfixed with the different animation affects he can add to his own face on his dad’s smartphone.
One digital resource I have not rejected is Facebook, which I find incredibly useful for staying in touch with friends all around the world. I met a young woman 9 years my junior when I was backpacking in Myanmar and we decided to keep in touch. She asked me if I had Whatsapp and Insta’. No, I said. Are you on Facebook? I offered. No, she replied. When I looked surprised, she sheepishly explained: My generation don’t really use Facebook. I felt ancient.
I understand that times are changing and that Facebook isn’t ‘cool’ anymore, but why bother having Instagram for photos, Twitter for opinions, Whatsapp for private messages and video calls etc when Facebook has all of it in one place?
I have found it invaluable for watching the progress of my friends in their separate corners of the globe and I get a certain voyeuristic satisfaction out of seeing their updates and news appear in my feed. For me, these updates only reach me when I log onto my laptop, which is a decisive action that only happens for finite lengths of time each day.
The joy of not having a smartphone is that I don’t spend every vacant minute of every day with my eyes glued to a screen. Be it habit or addiction, the average smartphone user rarely utilises these golden moments –such as waiting for a train, a lull in conversation, between courses at the dinner table, until the coffee cools to that optimum drinking temperature –to look around, watch the world go by, join conversation, regard nature in all its splendour… And I think that’s a shame.