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Technology makes me boring

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By Ashley Morrison

Considering that words and the effective use of them takes up pretty much my whole working life, I don’t read enough of them. No, cancel that – I do read enough of them, just not the right ones. Last night, I found a largely unread Sunday Times stacked beside the TV with all my other unread magazines. It dated back to January. And don’t get me started on the Nobel Prize for Literature-winning The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić which has been in my bedside drawer for probably a couple of years now; largely because I haven’t started it.

This morning I woke up at 7am. First thing I did? Turn my phone on. Sure enough there was a “really important” email that needed my attention – in the form of a friend asking me to forward him the photos I took (on my phone) whilst on holiday in France last month. So I did that whilst still in bed. The other emails were exactly the same as the ones I receive every single day of my life: job vacancies, Groupon offers, supermarket loyalty card statements, bank statements, TV and broadband statements, emails telling me to switch to ebilling… Not exactly the most interesting, important or edifying stuff in the world.

For some months now, I have fluctuated between having 120-140 unread emails in my inbox, telling myself that I really will get round to reading them at some point…eventually…when I have more time… I also have set Google Chrome to open all the tabs from my last session when I fire up my laptop. There are nine open at the moment. I need to read up about the “best” online savings account to get, whether I can save money on my utility bills – and oh, look, that job I’d bookmarked has now expired. Hooray – that’s one tab I can close. There’s also one tab open from the London Design Festival…but the event to which it’s referring has come and gone. OK, two down, seven to go.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to spend my life playing catch-up. I am never, ever able to reach “inbox zero” and there is always something that needs reading, renewing, reactivating, paying or bookmarking “because it might come in useful”. I read and read, and yet never really read.

Because I write for a living, people think I’m a veracious reader of books – so I’m very often given them for my birthday. If only that were true. You have no idea how much I desperately want to be a veracious reader, but the sad fact is most of these presents sit unread on my bulging bookshelves. I don’t know where the time goes – and there’s always something else I feel I should be doing. Trying to get down to “inbox zero”, for one.

I adore my new iPad and my smartphone is my lifeline in many respects. It makes tube journeys go much more quickly, for one. But as much as I love technology, I sometimes really yearn for it all to be taken away so that I can get back to having some sort of an analogue life, if you will.

A few years ago, I went on holiday to a remote island off the Croatian coast. The flat we rented didn’t have broadband and roaming data charges were prohibitively expensive, so for ten days I waved goodbye to technology. The results were amazing. A Masters graduate in music, specialising in composition, I hadn’t composed anything in years. And yet there I was, sitting on the balcony of my apartment all day, writing a new choral work on the back of our printed boarding passes. I even had to draw my own staves using a breadboard as a ruler. I read the Saturday Guardian from cover to cover too, as well as a thrilling novel I found in the apartment left by the previous guest.

Dinner conversations were more interesting; unlike the end of our daily grind in London, we didn’t just whack on Great British Menu while gobbling down our fishcakes. We had things to say. And I was happier. Yes, I suppose you could say of course I was; I was on holiday. But I do believe that I was also happier because I found myself forced into – and enjoying – all the things I miss when I’m consumed by technology in London.

A couple of weeks ago, my Sony smartphone stopped working temporarily and it sent me into a right old tiz. But to be fair, the one thing that didn’t work was the actual phone part rather than all the apps, so it was a genuine problem. That said, it did get me wondering whether I should conduct an experiment on myself. What if I were to switch back to a “dumbphone” for a week? In case you aren’t familiar with the lingo, a dumbphone is a featureless phone where you can only make calls and send texts – the antithesis of a smartphone. And what if I could cut myself off from all online technology when on the move? And ration my non work-related use of the internet and email to, say, an hour a day? Would I get my life back?

I’m yet to decide whether this is practical or not. And it’s a bit of a waste of a monthly tariff, as well, to be honest! But maybe it’s a test worth doing. If I start composing again, that would be a lovely bonus. That said, I’d eventually have to use Sibelius composing software on my computer in order to arrange it properly, otherwise it’ll take me till 2015 to finish it…

 

by Ashley Morrison

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