Thursday, 29 October 2015

Turn on, tune in...? - John Dougherty

I forgot my phone the other day.

I hadn't gone far when I realised I'd left it in the kitchen, still plugged in to the charger; and I almost turned back to the house to get it. But then I thought, Well, I'm only going to be gone for a short while. It's not very likely that anyone's going to need to get in touch with me before I get back.

So I carried on into town. And although I wasn't without my phone for long, I noticed a couple of interesting things.

The first was how many times I found myself about to reach for it. It's become habitual for me - as I suspect for many of us - when I have a spare moment, to check my emails or my Twitter feed; to see if anyone's been trying to contact me. And even though my phone wasn't in my pocket, still something kept triggering that little internal prompt - I'll just look at my phone.

The second thing I noticed was how, as that prompt to check the screen was immediately followed each time by the realisation that I couldn't, the pattern of my thoughts began to change - and change in a way that felt oddly familiar. Without the constant interruption of the internet, my thoughts began to flow again.

The thing is, the ability to muse idly is pretty important for a writer, and it was disturbing to realise how little of it I've been doing lately. But the ability to just pause for a second and check my electronic communications had become a constant interruption to that stream of daydreaming, the little river of ideas that should run constantly in the background and into which we should be able to dip whenever our creativity becomes thirsty.

I'm making an effort now to diminish that habit - to remember that just because I can check the internet, doesn't mean I must. It'll still be there later. And as a result, I'm finding myself making contact with a way of being that I'd almost forgotten about.

The writer Jonathan Stroud has recently launched a campaign aimed at giving children Freedom to Think. Take a look; it's a very simple yet hugely important idea, and I'm entirely in favour of it. But the freedom to think - and the time and space in which to do it - is something that adults need, too. We need to allow ourselves to be bored.


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP.


Susan Price said...

Thanks, John - you've given me a good excuse for the next round of complaints from friends and kin: 'Why do you never look at your messages? Why are you so hard to get in touch with?' - I hardly ever remember to check my phone. I'm not pretending this is a virtue - I think it's just me being old-fashioned.

Anonymous said...

Very true! This is one of the many reasons why I have a "no-internet-on-the-phone-unless-in-a-dire-emergency" rule.

Sue Bursztynski said...

My phone is just for making calls with. And I know someone will call me urgently the first time I leave it at home! I remember BMP(Before Mobile Phone)when the bus I was on broke down and I reached my parents' house two hours late. I would gave been glad of a phone back then!

But I do have my iPad with me daily. And it has become a habit, yes, but not a bad one. It saves me carrying a notebook and several books and while I'm not online all the time, if I am thinking about something I just can't remember, I can always look it up. I can open a new file on Pages and start a story, I can take a photo without lugging a camera along, I can read a book(and download a useful ebook I've read about in a blog post like this). I can finish preparing classes and print them out when I reach the school where I work.

So for me, having something electronic with me all the time is not negative at all.

But I can understand how some people feel they are relying too much on it.

Stroppy Author said...

I always have the phone set to offline. I can go online to check something (very rarely actually necessary), but the default is off, so I'll get phone calls and texts but there's no temptation to look at all the time. I hate sitting on trains seeing everyone just messing with their phone. Such a waste of time :-(

C.J.Busby said...

I don't check my phone (much!) mainly because I only recently got a smartphone and I'm not very god at working it - but your post made me think about the way I do the same thing when I'm sitting at the computer - and in fact, will drift over to the computer in moments of spare time and do that checking facebook/email thing. You are so right - it blocks a kind of creative daydreaming or just plain mooching. I shall have to get tough with myself...