Sunken Culture

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Living the Dumb Life

IT came around purely by chance.


Following a long litany of annoying glitches, freezes and general performance issues, my partner’s Android device became unusable. Not quite a technophobe, she is generally the kind of person who will forgive a few ‘eccentricities’ from her various devices, but this was a step too far.


After various rounds where it randomly archived all of her photos in a dark and forgotten corner of her MicroSD card, became mysteriously hot due to an unspecified ‘media organiser’ (or something along those lines) and eventually began to not respond to power button presses the time came for decisive action.


Luckily it was under warranty, and it was promptly sent back to the manufacturer for repair. Whether BQ can keep the promises its generous warranty offers is another story altogether, but that is a story for another time.


Thus, the phone packed away in a container to foreign lands, my partner had a phone shaped hole in her life – one that I gallantly opted to fill with my own device. The swap took a week, accounting for various photos, texts, contacts, texts, WhatsApp messages, Kindle books and more that needed to be transferred. Regardless, I persevered.


The swap done, things now continue as normal for her.


My story since has had less of a happy ending however and is just a tad more frustrating. Phoneless, I needed something to get my ‘smart’ fix. I needed music, messaging, multimedia and more. As such, my only option lay in a drawer, where it had been forgotten for many years.


Having been for many years a Windows Phone devotee, this old soldier is a Nokia Lumia 520. Released in 2013, I purchased it for £75 at the now defunct Phones 4 U, indeed as a backup for my then decrepit Samsung Galaxy S3. Initially it ran Windows Phone 8, and boy did it fly.


I have many fond memories of Windows Phone 8.1


As time went by, I quickly upgraded to something a little more flash, but I kept the device as a test subject. First I installed Windows Phone 8.1, which ran like a dream, enhancing the phone in many ways while still keeping the fundamentals intact.


Then Windows 10 Mobile came, with its higher system requirements. Foolishly, I decided to upgrade – desperate to see what Microsoft had to offer to long term fans – an action that I continue to rue.


With an anaemic processor and nowhere near enough RAM, the pint-sized pocket-relic wheezes through every task. Opening an email takes an aeon, and the limited random access memory means that it is limited to a single ‘job’ at a time, background apps are promptly dispatched as soon as they arrive – taking the ‘smart’ out of the phone.


Moreover, the ‘system’ accounts for 75% of the battery drain throughout the day, meaning that the stamina of my Lumia is measured in the minutes rather than hours. All of this while doing its best impression of a piece of the sun, getting more than a little hot under pressure.


I endured for a week. Many emails lost (along with some modicum of sanity), I was nonetheless reserved to my fate. The repaired BQ device, running delicious Android, was due to return shortly along with my ‘smart’ life.


Then something snapped: it happened at the weekend, prompted by a single fall.


Not mine of course, but rather the phone. During bar shenanigans, it tumbled out of my pocket, descending at a snail’s pace towards the hardwood floor. Then came a thud, following which a horribly cracked spider-web screen became another one of the Lumia’s many problems.


Of course, being prepared for every eventuality, I had another backup device to hand, something I had again purchased as a reserve in 2014, for the princely sum of £15 – a cheap Samsung candy-bar phone.


It has a number-pad with T9 texting, but cannot hold more than 100 texts at any one point in time. It can’t play music, it can’t access the internet. It can’t instant message, it can’t go on maps…all but two of the two hundred or so uses of the smartphone are lost. All I can do is text (slowly) and make calls – along with indulging in the odd grumble at the lack of Snake (it only has Sudoku, my mortal enemy).


Inhuman, unfair


I’ve written about technology for several years now in various capacities, and I have been a smartphone owner since 2010.


Downloading apps, using online maps, gaming, music and more have been in my daily routine for quite some time – they are in my DNA.


When I wake up in the morning, it is to the call of a smartphone, when I commute to work I’m listening to music and answering emails. During the day I’m responding to messages, in the evening I’m looking up recipes – throughout the day I’m never long without a plastic/metal oblong on my person.


Tangibly, this has improved my life from before – the dark days. I’m more organised, I never miss a photo opportunity, I can socialise more easily, I can plan my day ahead in minutes, I can stay in the loop at crucial moments and I’m never really all that bored.


Yet all of this requires investment, I need to spend time babying the device, worrying about battery life, setting it up with my information, handling repairs, and becoming an expert on their operation. This comes with a certain level of baseline stress, one that isn’t immediately apparent until it vanishes. My device can accomplish over two hundred separate tasks, and I can accomplish around a quarter of these.


Answering emails all the time means that this is expected of you, this is the same with socialisation. There is no more room for error when it comes to planning, no scope for being less involved when it comes to collaborative endeavours. There’s no room for exploration, every moment has to be utilised – we must always be on.


Of course the devices themselves aren’t to blame for this state of affairs(more the services they run), and the effect of this stress will vary from user to user. In my life however, I have found a noticeable improvement to the way that I handle my leisure time.


Indeed, this all happened just before attending a conference. I was unable to map myself, check out local amenities on the train before arrivals, research train delays, show my reservation email at the hotel, message constantly and work as effectively.


Yet I was far more relaxed, and arguably my contribution to the presentations was enhanced by this. It is arguable that, while we have more to do and entertain ourselves with than ever before, this comes with a cost. It is the expectation that every minute matters, every gap must be filled – there isn’t a second in the day where we are free to ‘switch off’


Swings and roundabouts of course, horses for courses – and any other trite phrase you may wish to think of in way of a conclusion.


The No-Phone – a start of something greater?


Of course, I’m harbouring no delusions. Although I’m enjoying being ‘switched off’, it is all relative. I still use a laptop while at home and two monitors while in the office – I’ve not quite become a hermit. I do not entertain any notion that this will be a permanent state of affairs, when the phone arrives back from its rejuvenative surgeries I’ll embrace it back into my life with more warmth than I would the brother whom I do not love.


However it has been the experience of doing something a little different, the change of pace, that I have found I enjoyed more than I ever might have imagined. Everyone has a bit of a philistine in them I suppose, with the question then being to you, the reader: what are your thoughts? Have you ever unplugged?


Let us know in the comments below…

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