While I was in Australia, along with travelling around, enjoying delicious food and drink, sightseeing and meeting friends I also did a bit of reading. One book I read (re-read I should say) was ‘Be Brilliant Every Day’ by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker (it’s a great book, you should check it out) and I came across an illustration similar to a food pyramid but for life values.
Right there at the base, providing a strong foundation for all of life’s needs, was wifi. This made me laugh, and then reality gave me a bit of a shake and reminded me of the week before when I was in Sydney…
On arrival at my AirBnB rental I was flicking through the house rules looking for the part that would provide the Holy Grail – the wifi code for the apartment. Only there wasn’t one… I must have read through those notes 3 times, with a growing sense of disbelief. What was I going to do? No wifi? Seriously?
In a state of near panic I turned on data roaming because obviously something really important would have happened in the 4 hours since I left the apartment in Melbourne… After a few moments I forced myself to get a grip, turn off the data roaming and just go and find a café.
So off I went, out into the rain, to find a café. There are definitely no shortage of cafes in Newtown but there is a distinct lack of cafes with wifi. Once I got over the shock that the café I had chosen was also a wifi free zone I ordered a coffee and forced myself to calm down.
Where had this horrible sense of needing to be connected come from? For some time I had been vaguely aware that I was spending an increasing amount of time on my phone but my reaction was ridiculous. Did I really need to be connected all the time? Looking around the coffee shop it occurred to me that Australian’s were indeed a rare breed – hardly anyone had their phone in their hand or on their table. The few people I did notice with phones were having a very quiet conversation or sent a quick message and put their phone away again. The rest of them were talking to their friends and the few other people on their own were contentedly reading. It occurred to me that not so long ago I would have been completely happy to sit with a book too, or perhaps indulge in a spot of people watching.
That first evening in Sydney I didn’t sleep well – new surroundings, or lack of connection anxiety?
The next day I went off to do some sightseeing and exploring and had a thoroughly enjoyable day, taking photographs and generally realising that I could enjoy my own company without distraction. This got me thinking some more. When was the last time I felt 100% engaged in what I was doing? When did I last fully pay attention to what was going on around me?
To me, good writing comes through an observant writer who uses the senses, strong dialogue, scene setting, etc. I started to feel I was doing a disservice both to myself as a writer and to you lovely people who read what I write. If I always have one eye on my messages how can I accurately describe the things I’ve seen and done? So from now on, when I am on my travels my phone will be buried in the bottom of my bag. I wonder if there will be a difference in my writing?
I also wondered if this is why I often feel lonely – is my conversation and interaction broken down into such little ‘soundbites’ of messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and What’sApp that I’ve forgotten how to connect with new people or to simply enjoy my own company? I’m quite a shy person and sometimes this can get the better of me, however on the whole I’m perfectly capable of approaching people and finding something to talk about. But lately I’ve been finding it more difficult – interacting with a real, live human face-to-face? Scary!!
As my week in Sydney wore on and I did start to enjoy being wifi free and quite literally smelling the coffee, however I couldn’t shake off the growing feeling of loneliness. Paying a bit more attention I noticed that hardly anyone in the city does things on their own – there are couples, families and groups of friends all interacting, having fun. I started to feel like I needed to get away from this – luckily this feeling didn’t kick in strongly until my last day. I should also point out that this didn’t detract from how I felt about Sydney – I loved the city.
When I arrived in Brisbane I immediately felt like I was in a more laid back place and I felt myself relax again. I also noticed fairly quickly that the amazing people at Brisbane City Council provided free wifi all over the city… However, I had learned a valuable lesson in Sydney and kept the wifi off most of the time so that I could properly enjoy the city.
As a result of restricting my connectivity I started to feel less lonely, more at ease with myself and more able to chat to people as I was out and about. I didn’t make any lifelong friends but I did have lots of interesting conversations with people from Brisbane and expats living in the city.
Have I managed to continue to restrict my wifi useage? Unfortunately not, I still find myself constantly wanting to check for messages, ‘quickly’ check Facebook and Instagram and still be ‘checking’ an hour later. I need to be more focused about switching off, but being constantly switched on is ruining my ability to focus.
So one of my plans for 2016 is to reduce the connectivity and increase ‘real time’, write some more and generally just get back in touch with my own life. That may sound a bit dramatic but I do feel like I’m observing my life rather than being completely ‘in’ it.
I’m also read this fantastic quote from Diane Ackerman:
‘I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it too’
Here’s to 2016 – the year of real time connections. Hope it’s a great year for you all.