Saturated By Technology The Lost Art of Switching Off and Escaping The Screen

TECHNOLOGY SATURATION

the lost art of Switching technology off 

I have been a technology lover since I can’t even remember. It was definitely a thing I had going on in my very first school, playing with old cathode rays, bits of wire, I was in my element. Then one day when I was about eleven, I built a personal computer, and ever since then I have been an early adopter.

But recently technology has been driving me to the point of tearing out my hair. A little beep here and there to suggest it’s struggling with something or not working, another beep that says I have a million new messages, and yet another beep right before the thing dies a quick death. Just how many beeps do I need in my life?

We are driven by this endless pursuit of being ever connected and ever available and frankly, it’s starting to get to the point where I yearn to be in a place that’s warm and sunny and has no connectivity at all. OK, electricity might be useful, maybe even a light because I’m not good in the dark, but just a place where no one can send you a text at 3am, or a thousand emails in a day, or having to feel a device vibrate in my pocket, or glow when it becomes needy of a Wi-Fi access point.

We have become slaves to the technology. Now this is a bit of a difficult one for me because I am primarily a digital artist and I rely on technology to pay my bills, but at the same time, as much as I love it, I actually dislike it too. Only last week I wrote about setting yourself up with enough technology to start a professional digital art career, but if you do, you have to remember that humans existed before we had technology, and we not only survived, we thrived, even outliving some other species.

Friends get an IT problem and I am usually the first to hear. The expectation is that because I kind of know what I’m doing means I must enjoy it enough to sort out their glows and beeps and non-bleeps too. I get to put right everything they did wrong using a wizard, like I am a wizard with a magic wand who can wave it and about ten hours later the problem is fixed, usually for free, because you know, I must love it so much.

I buy into technology frequently, a little too frequently at times. I am one of the early adopters, one of those people who queue in the rain for hours to get my hands on the latest tech on the day. Finally this week I said enough. Technology is saturating me, I am actually bored of looking at a screen for X number of hours each day, and I bet most of you are too, deep down anyway. You just need to admit it.

It is a pet hate of mine when someone stands in the middle of a sidewalk to look at their phone. This is similar to people driving a car and suddenly stopping without any warning or break lights. The inevitable clash and the cascade of I’m sorry, despite it not being your fault that you walked in to someone who had suddenly stopped to capture a NOT REAL Pokémon. You are not saving the world by capturing these critters, you are bringing it to a standstill. 

save your iPhone battery 

There was a point in the last decade when we stopped relying on each other. I’m not too sure when it was, but we did. I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t consult Google or a forum, or gazed at the reviews of new technology. Then last week I put technology to one side and I actually read a book. Bill Bryson, the Road to Little Dribbling. Wonderful, but then I have always been a fan of Bryson.

I turned off my phone, turned off Messenger notifications, much to the disgust of people who were expressing deep concern about my well-being because I hadn’t posted or appeared online in the past twelve hours. I am fine, please don’t automatically assume I have left my earthly shell, if I had, I have arrangements in place to let you know, via social-media. 

When I appeared back online I was greeted by a spammer who had been patiently waiting for my reply to say yes I would love to join the illuminati. Things got a little awkward when he asked what I wanted from joining this merry clan, oh, you know, I want to earn lots of money, and the souls of all who have tried to scam me in the past was my reply.

Then I was in a meeting in my day job and someone started to do what they normally do on a conference call and that was to start throwing in acronyms. Resisting the temptation to just Google it, I did something that no human in the history of the past six years has ever done, I asked outright what the acronym meant. The answer was given a few minutes later when the person I asked had Googled it.

People rely on their connected devices too much. They rely on a smartphone to do their thinking, and I rather think that in time, people will no longer be able to solve problems on their own.

People tend to offload their thinking to technology where we can get quick answers so that we can move on to the next acronym before the conference call ends, because we only have the line booked for the next twenty-minutes. There is no longer any effortful analytic thinking, and this was confirmed in a fairly recent study when a group of Psychologists got together in Canada and came to the same conclusion.

My real worry is that we are moving in to the next phase of human evolution. I can see a future when our eyes will evolve in to screens, and our fingers will become the numbers 0-9. Honestly the birth of the first evolved human with screen eyes and a battery compartment is going to be a bit of a shock. 

And then the tech stops working and we wonder around with sadness in our hearts, craving more data, and we haven’t got a clue what we are doing anymore. The extension of our mind has lost its wireless access, and at this point we are doomed until we can either call out the IT guy or get the screen repaired.

A few weeks ago I walked through the centre of London. From Covent Garden up to Leicester Square, then on to Piccadilly, and up through Soho. I live streamed the event (it was an event in the sense that I was actually walking and didn’t take a cab), and I got viewers from all over the world, many probably standing right next to me, and the lights reflecting in people’s faces were not coming from the adverts in Piccadilly, but from the glow of their phones.

It was a social experiment, I wanted to count up the number of people who were fixated on screens, just as I was whilst I was streaming the event. Interestingly there seems to be a signal not-spot right by the statue of Eros. Equally interesting, not too many people were standing by the statue of Eros.

I couldn’t begin to count the glowing screens, there were thousands of them. Here many people were experiencing life in England’s fine capital city, through SMS and Facebook. It’s not just in London though. I visited the local town of Walsall in England a few weeks ago, it was also the town I was born in. I purposely switched off the phone because I hadn’t been for a few years despite living so close, I wanted to compare how I remember it was to how it actually is, and I was surprised that it had so much to offer, and I actually regained long forgotten memories of walking through the market area with my parents as a child.

If I had been twittering, or Facebooking, or Googling, or Snap Chatting, I wouldn’t have had those memories, I would have come home memorising only the last conversation which wasn’t even a conversation, it was just a bunch of text on a screen.

In the future the memories of our children won’t be of their parents taking them to the zoo, it will be of that time they had the most #Epic conversation over twitter with their current BFF.

relax read a book or paint 


THE LETTER

That brings me on to another lost art, the art of letter writing. My letterbox is usually a portal for bad news and bills, so I was a little taken aback yesterday when I received a letter with a handwritten address, a real stamp, in a lovely white envelope, and inside was two pages of the most beautiful paper I have ever seen, with a note from a friend overseas which was wait for it, handwritten in ink.

Then I saw a story on my timeline where the parents of a one year old asked family and friends to write to their daughter on her first birthday instead of buying presents so that they could put all of the letters in a time capsule for her to open on her eighteenth birthday.

When she opened the letters on turning eighteen, she was overcome with emotion upon reading letters from people who had since passed away. I so wish I had thought of this when my daughter was born.

Many years ago during the First and Second World Wars, soldiers would write home and those letters would take weeks and more often months to arrive. Technology speeds the process of delivery, but how many of those conversations with our soldiers remain? Then there were the important letters which shaped the history of mankind.

Albert Einstein’s letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1929 where Albert informed the President of the United States warning him that Germany’s Third Reich was conducting research that was felt to be a nuclear threat.

Atomic energy had only recently been discovered and it is highly probable that the information in the letter from Einstein who was highly regarded, focussed America’s development of atomic weapons.

Geoffrey Boothroyd’s letter to Ian Fleming highlighting to the author of James Bond that the gun that the special agent carried was a lady’s gun, and not a nice lady at that. Consequently in time, Bonds gun was changed to a Walther PPK, much more befitting of a secret agent.

Boothroyd himself did not accept any payment from Fleming despite Fleming insisting that he did not want to steal the expertise of another man, but was honoured in Dr No, when Boothroyd was characterised as the Major in charge of the agents’ gadgets, Agent Q.

According to the National Museum of American History, an eleven year old by the name of Grace Bedell wrote to Abraham Lincoln to ask him if he could grow a beard and more people would vote for him to become the first President of the United States. Lincoln wrote back just four days later and within a few months had grown a beard and become President.

Eye witness accounts are now digital, whereas eye witness accounts used to be from people who were actually at the centre of breaking history. You read their words and you connect to the past, and that’s magical.

I can’t say exactly when letters were suddenly deemed as unacceptable forms of correspondence, it might have been shortly after 1965 when MIT sent the first email, but I remember in the 70’s and 80’s sending a letter every week to my new favourite celebrity asking for a photo and an autograph. The stamps were purchased from my fifty pence pocket money, hence only one per week. I mean I had sweets to buy too.

Thank you to the Famous Five characters, and too Samantha Fox, and Larry Hagman who played J.R Ewing in the TV series Dallas, and Agnetha Faltskog from Abba, who all sent me a letter and a signed photo. I am sure I will never part with them, if only I could be brave enough to climb in to the attic to retrieve them. My only regret, not asking for one from Carrie Fisher.

I would write a thank you letter to my aunts and uncles whenever I had received a gift from them, and I would even write my own excuse notes for school after mastering the art of forging my parents’ signatures. Letters were a way of life, it was a time when we would look forward to the postman coming to the door, just a pleasant sound of the letterbox opening and closing, not a beep to be heard.

I even had pen pals. One a French girl whose father was quite famous in Paris and made perfume, and a girl who lived in Devon. Although we never met, more than three decades later I remember those letters, and I remember the stories they would tell of life in France or on the Devonshire coast. I rarely remember any letters in adulthood, mostly they are just bills and bad news like dental appointments, insurance quotes, and junk mail.

We have written letters to each other since around the 4th millennium BCE, yet in the last couple of decades we have evolved in to a species where such a thing is incomprehensible. Why on earth would we send a letter rather than Facetime, when a letter could take a day to deliver, but last much longer than a conversation over Wi-Fi?

Technology introduces smarter ways of working or so they say, but I have never seen a time in my life where technology is actually a driver of so much more stress. But how do you wean yourself away from a reliance on this virtual drug?

Set some time aside to be unconnected. This is what I will be doing from now on. I will have specific times each week where I put the phone in a cupboard and spend that time connecting to those strangers who are apparently family. If I am in a restaurant, the phone will not be invited to join us, nor will it at the dinner table. Nor will I be upgrading to the iPhone 8 despite it being the first time ever my contract end has synced with the proposed release date. 

Responding to a text message can take more time than just picking up the phone and calling the person. How many times have you had a text message conversation that goes on forever and ever, only to be halted by the final sentence of “K”, you see we have even lost the ability to use an “O” before the “K”.

I have stopped taking my phone to the bathroom with me. It doesn’t need to use the facilities, and I am now using that time to read a good book, or even just have some quiet time.

Whilst I can’t do much about my email commitment in my day job, I can do something about my email commitment in my personal life. Now I only look at them a maximum of three times each day. I am finding that I am experiencing more time to deal with life, and my focus is no longer on the latest Amazon offer. I only really look forward to emails which start with the words New Order, anyway. 

I think it is also important to ask yourself why you need to connect to technology so much. For me it was fear of missing a sale or keeping myself occupied. I had forgotten that I have the ability to spend time with myself and I am capable of keeping not only myself occupied with my own thoughts, but giving my mind a rest too.

The To Do list remains with me, otherwise I would completely forget everything, but I am starting to figure out what is important to me, the rest can be split in to groups, sometime later, maybe never, and that’s so old I don’t even remember and nor does anyone else. Do you know, I had 36 To Do’s and most of them were things that no longer need attention or things that I just couldn’t convince my brain to do no matter how hard I tried.

My goal for my personal mobile is to achieve better battery life each day. Yesterday my iPhone used 3%. I don’t have to remember to put it on charge. If you can get through the day without needing to recharge it, that is a win.  This could be a phenomenal game that people could play. #SaveBatteryGetALife

I am going to write more letters too. I remembered I have a fabulous Montblanc pen which I once won in a writing competition, and it still works, although I did have to order the refills online.

If you are running a business why not give your employees an email free day. No internal emails, just face to face conversation. It really can do wonders for morale. 

So this week try to take some time away from the technology. I don’t think any of you would look quite so nice if your eyes evolved into a screen. Write a letter to a friend, stop spreading that fake Fukushima post that suggests we are all doomed, and talk to a stranger in the street.

Go outside and look at what you have missed for the last decade or so, have a meal with a loved one without once looking at your phone, and more than anything else, make some time for you. Don't worry, even taking drastic steps such as these will still give you plenty of time to Facebook. 

ABOUT M.A

Mark Taylor is an artist and blogger who is attempting to write two books. His work is sold around the world and is available from his Pixels site here

Mark also provides graphic design services, takes commissions for book covers, and advises on art installations for hotels and corporate environments. He also supports other local and independent artists through this blog and via his social-media channels, offering advice and promotional opportunities and once won a Royal Award for his work in environmental science education which was awarded at Buckingham Palace by HRH Princess Anne.

He also likes fine coffee and produces artwork and period documentation props for use in TV and Film.

switch technology off for at least 30 minutes each day 

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