Surviving London without a phone

comment1Going abroad without a phone teaches you two life lessons. The first life lesson: “how to function abroad without a phone”. Given that this skill isn’t terribly transferrable, I don’t propose to dwell on it for long. The second, nominally useful life lesson: “living in the moment, man”. Where “the moment, man”, is grim, the ability to “live in it” might not be one you wish to exercise. Tough luck, pal. There shall be no backlit touchscreen to guide you through the darker tunnels.

To dispense with the pragmatic: should you forget your phone for a weekend away, you’ll need to let people know that this is the case. That will take two seconds. Whenever you’re going places they aren’t, you’ll also have to make double-sure to apprise them of this and to establish when you’ll see them again. That will take another two seconds per transaction, bringing the total up to perhaps a minute.

If you have a poor sense of direction, then try to outsource the task of finding things to friends who have maps (be they located on a physical piece of paper, on their smartphone or embedded somewhere in their intuition). Also rely on your friends to book things. Also rely on your friends to catch things (trains, flights, buses, or food if you’re vacationing in a particular rustic locale). They will never ever get sick of little old unreliable you and your little old unreliable ways. You will be loved for your quirky inability to keep tabs on your possessions.

Limiting your geographic scope can also be helpful. This is easy if, like me, you’re at a debating competition. The schedule for that generally looks something like: ‘Walk to college campus, do some debates, walk five minutes away for coffee, walk back to college campus, do some more debates’. Interesting and varied activities might be more difficult to co-ordinate sans cellar communication. Sorry.

A shameless social media factotum, I can usually be found Facebook-messaging someone about the article I just retweeted while studiously ignoring emails about my Tumblr inbox. Folding up all these communicative arms and stuffing them into my voicebox was definitely the odder experience of the weekend. For the avoidance of doubt: I don’t mind talking to people. It just seems transient and inefficient when you could be Instagramming them. I am definitely, definitely the twentysomething-year-old technophilic automaton that middle-aged Guardian columnists like to vent about. (Incidentally, if you’re writing one of those articles, feel free to send me on any questions: they usually seem to be produced without any consultation from anyone born after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, so here I am, just a Twitter message away.)

You will find yourself making more observations to the tune of “People are perverse and stupid” when you are relentlessly exposed to them and their foibles.

My phoneless experiment was, however, slightly compromised by having a Kindle with me. Here’s another lesson: having a Kindle and nothing else will mean you get reading of some sort done, but it’ll always be the thing you least need to read, even if your compulsory reading is more interesting. English students like to come up with reasons that their degree has spoiled reading for them but that still affirm them as hard-working people: “I can’t stop bringing my newly extensive critical knowledge into everything”, and so on. Actually, I think it’s that making people do things makes them less likely to enjoy those things because people are perverse and stupid.

That’s another ancillary point: you will find yourself making more observations to the tune of “People are perverse and stupid” when you are relentlessly exposed to them and their foibles. You can solve this either by remembering your phone next time or by acquiring a sunny disposition – I ordered one of those but it’s about twenty-two years late in the post.

So to the strangers sitting near me who had conversations about debating that were loud enough to distract me from my reading but not interesting enough to actually follow: thank you for solidifying my intention not to forget my phone next time. And to the lovely bits of London I longed to photograph but couldn’t: thank you as well. To everyone who brought up a minor factual point I that I could have resolved with some speedy smartphone-googling were I in happier technological climes, and maybe if my deprivation had gone on for longer then I could have learned a more fundamental lesson about coping with ambiguity in an age of limitless subjectivity, but as it stands, all I’ve really gotten out of this is that next time I’ll make sure to have a phone so I can resolve the question without throwing human infallibility into crisis: thank you, thank you, thank you.

The ultimate lesson here: bring your phone with you when you’re going away. I suspect, though, that there’s a significant overlap (if not a condition of utter interchangeability) between a) the people who needed this article to tell them that, and b) the people who’ll forget it anyway.

Illustration: Naoise Dolan