Remember that advertisement for American Express, when Karl Malden says ‘don’t leave home without it? This isn’t that sort of story, but it is a similarly cautionary tale addressed to fellow bloggers/writers. I’m sure that like me, many of you have a list of things that you check before leaving home: gas off, lights off, door locked and car keys if you’re driving. Add notebooks, biros (plural) and novels (plural) to your list. Just because those are the standard items you usually carry don’t assume that you won’t occasionally be caught out as I was, today. You may have twenty pages left of that novel, not nearly long enough to keep you going till you get home, or a big idea for the next article and a biro that dies on you that very instant. It’s rare that it happens but when it does, it is a painful experience.
Those of you who carry handbags know that now and again there’s a bit of spring cleaning happening; we clear out accumulating detritus and lighten the load. This is what I did early this morning before my outing. When I sat on the bus and reached for my novel, I remembered that my new novel was sitting on the kitchen table and when I reached for my notebook I remembered that during the recent school holidays it got filled up with games like hangman and noughts and crosses So, no notebook or novel. Even my iPod was charging up at home, so no music or podcasts. That was the longest twenty minute ride of my life.
For the first time in more years than I care to remember, I was left to my own devices. Thoughts intruded that had no business to in broad daylight. There was a time when I didn’t see myself as a writer. (How and when do you know you’re a writer is a topic for another day.) Once upon a time, I sat on a bus or a tram and knitted garments for my children, my fingers were active and my mind was filled to the brim with complicated patterns. I had no time for deep and meaningful thoughts and those were the days before the mobile phone (though after the landline despite what my children say).
Today the deep and meaningful thoughts were crowding in on me. There was nothing to do but to check out my fellow passengers and a boring bunch they were. I can’t understand people who are happy to zone out and watch the scenery fly past. Either my mind or my fingers have to be busy. The woman sitting next to me was reading a hard copy book, (‘Blackout’ by Connie Willis) but the rest sat still, staring into space or out the window. I’m used to every second person having earphones plugged in to their music of preference or tapping messages out on their iPhones. Today, all was silence. Perhaps these people have found a different way to suppress their unwanted thoughts but I doubt it, I suspect that progress has sucked their grey cells dry of any original thought. I’m still trying to make up my mind whether these people are to be admired or pitied.
I’d say, though, that they are the exception to the rule. We are surrounded by progress and it is portable and, like Karl Malden we find that having acclimated ourselves to progress, we aren’t capable of leaving home without it. That’s the thing about devices, we get hooked on them and there’s no going back. People keep an iPhone in their pockets. They make calls, access the internet, send and receive emails, take photos and watch movies and those are just the basics. There are hundreds of applications on the market. We fondly refer to them as Apps. They allow us to do almost any amazing thing, perhaps excepting being able to provide us with popcorn to enjoy with our downloaded movie. But I have it on good authority that inventors are working on that. There was a time when going to the pictures on a Saturday night was a special event. We and your dates dressed up for the occasion. If we necked during the boring scenes, well that just heightened the enjoyment and the experience. Now it’s one on one, us bonding with our iPhones (when I say our iPhones, I mean yours, I only have a primitive mobile I call my own). Unfortunately neither my mobile nor your iPhone has a neck. Imagine what you’re missing.
I have had this theory for a while now, that the more gadgets we have to entertain and inform us the less we need to get from other human beings what makes us unique. Before we know it we’ll be living in our individual caves, communicating via Skype or some other even more progressive program. Perhaps, even, we can find a way to procreate without human contact. I’ve read somewhere that there are three-dimensional photocopiers, perhaps one day soon it will be programmed to create three dimensional babies.
Before iPhones or even landlines, people were more closely connected. It was the real six degrees of separation. Without sacrificing their individuality human beings congregated in groups for safety, for companionship and reproduction. Now people congregate and engage with each other through Twitter and Facebook. As I’m always saying there’s a price for progress, but I’m betting the up and coming generation won’t notice the lack.
See what dark thoughts intrude when I don’t have my security blanket. Let this be a warning to the rest of you. Needless to say, when I arrived at my destination the first two things I did was to by a hard copy notebook and a novel.