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10 days in…and an epiphany on Vauxhall station platform

I’m 10 days in and can’t work out how I feel about mobile-less March. I think it’s easier just to tell you what I’ve noticed….

Firstly, sleep is an issue. I’ve never been the best at getting to bed, ever since I was a teenager and even when I was up before 5am, six days a week when I worked in radio. But I have been trying really hard to tackle my night owl tendencies. And about 4 months ago, I discovered a magical little app called Pzizz which actually succeeds in making me a sleepy head. I didn’t realise a/ how much I used it and b/ how I would miss it so.

I’m also surprisingly traumatised by the lack of Instagram in my life. I love love love taking photos. I think it’s something to do with fortuitously capturing a beautiful thing or moment in an unexpected instant and being able to treasure it just as it is, in all its perfectly haphazard detail, for longer than the second when it was. One example: I had a hilariously purple breakfast on Saturday. I’ve never had a purple breakfast before. Seriously, it looked like something out of Peter Pan. And I couldn’t share it with the world*. (Since this hiatus I have also discovered that Instagram goes out of its way to stop you posting using third party apps or your PC. Usually I’d be like ‘brilliant’. This month I’m not so sure). But yeah, the Instagram thing is a deal breaker for me. Who knew? I’ve even started collecting photos in a folder on my desk top for when I’m back online in April*. Ugggggh. March is such a long time!

I’m a curious creature so one of the other things I’m missing most is not being able to immediately look something up on the spur of the moment. I made a ‘Deliciously Ella’ cashew milk toddy, with honey and turmeric the other day and immediately felt like I’d consumed something wholesome. Somewhere in the deep-dark-mobile-phone-less recesses of my brain, I recollected turmeric’s healing properties and desperately would have liked to have quickly looked it up via the world’s biggest encyclopedia. But I’d already used my internet hour. The flip side of this being that I must have really wanted to know as I looked it up at work the next day (turmeric is basically magic: google away, my phone-wielding-nemisis’).

Probably the biggest thing for me is that without my mobile phone and with a faulty landline to contend with, I don’t have the usual direct access to my family and friends. The Utility Warehouse engineers are coming to take a look on Monday. But in the meantime, everyone who tries to call gets cut off after half a ring. So no answer phone messages and no BT 1571 to tell me if/when they’ve called. Ignoring anyone, especially without realising, makes me feel anxious (which definitely says more about me than them). I would categorically hate my favourite people in the world to think I was being rude and ignoring them. And maybe this is where the crux of the matter lies.

I am beholden to my phone.

I am forgetful, so if I get a message the best thing I can do (I am/was/might still be, convinced) is to reply straight away whilst it’s fresh in my head. But then before you know it, you’re in a full on whatsapp conversation with friends and three quarters of an hour has disappeared. I’m also constantly getting distracted. Particularly when I’m at home: I live by myself so I (confession alert) tend to take my phone with me around the various rooms of the house. Usually it’s impossible for me to focus on just the one matter in hand. Well it’s rare: maybe when I practise before a gig or write my blog. Perhaps that’s why I find both quite therapeutic: for that hour or two I purely focus on the one thing.

Conversely, when my phone is at my beck and call, when I’m at the beck and call of my phone I never do just one thing. In the last week, things have been quicker because I’ve done just the thing at hand. I’ve washed up..and only washed up. Cooked..and only cooked. Dried my hair..and only dried my hair (whilst chuntering to myself that I could have simultaneously been doing something useful in that 15 minutes like looking up relative major/minor scales or finding out about the therapeutic benefits of turmeric). I’ve also eaten…and only eaten. And I think it’s safe to say that I’ve experienced washing up, drying my hair and eating in a different way because that’s all I’ve been doing. Some might even say I’ve washed up, dried my hair and eaten, mindfully. And apparently we could all do with a bit more mindfulness in our crazy, beeping, signal tethered lives, which brings me to another point.

One of the things which really struck – in fact shocked me – was during my phone-less adventure into London at the weekend. My ‘what-if’ tendencies meant that I’d pre-planned my arrangements with friends and family, sorted out directions and journey timings in advance (requiring me to wind up my watch and, critically, be on time for once) . I even wrote out the directions from Surbiton station to my friend and her brilliantly imaginative 7 year old son’s house. “Up the hill, with the wood on the left hand side and my flat’s the one opposite the house with the big black door” turns out to be pretty robust and hands down more reliable than Google’s walking maps. So it was all a bit of a revelation. The shocking part though, happened on the platform at Vauxhall station.

I was literally the only person, bar one other, not looking down at a phone. And there must have been a hundred people stood on the station platform. The quirky red head in her vintage skirt and I clocked each other but the rest of the platform crowd were blissfully unaware of that (unique) acknowledgement. They certainly wouldn’t recognise us in a line up.

How weird to realise that pretty much everyone there, whilst present in body, are elsewhere in mind.

Who needs virtual reality or parallel universes any more?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not judging. Normally it’s me with my head down towards the floor absorbing the minutiae of whatever is going on within that all encompassing, constantly evolving, never ending cosmos encapsulated within my mobile phone. But those 30 seconds and that eye-meeting acknowledgement rooted me and suddenly I became searingly aware of how unpresent that little hand held hypnotic gizmo makes me. An epiphany if you will. The exact opposite of mindfulness?

My journey home was a revelation n’all.  I had utterly forgotten how much I enjoy a journey for its own sake. I don’t care where coming from or where I’m going to, I just love being on the move; courtesy of nomadic ancestors musically traversing across Europe to find their new home I think. (With a hurdy gurdy and a monkey: true fact).  Shifting landscapes and sinking suns out of train windows, chai latte in one hand and a book in the other.  A BOOK! Like, when was the last time I read a book on a train?!  There was a tangible absence of  – what, stress? – structured activity. No checking bank balances, reading depressing news headlines, manically trying to reply to friends before reaching my destination. It was totally gorgeous and without wanting to overstate the moment (it did only last 35 minutes after all) liberating.

I was telling some of my colleagues about mobile-less-March over lunch in the staff room today. “But what do you do, if you’re out somewhere and you get stuck?!”  You ask for help. You look around the platform, step out of your bubble, forget twitter exists and ask a real live person. Train station guards know their stuff about which platforms and whether the train at 17.17 will be faster than the one currently at platform 2 it seems.

You do have to speak to people more, that’s for sure. (Ironic when the first reason for having a mobile phone was so you could talk to people wherever you were). Even if it’s just to ask the time because old (-not-quite-yet-a-) habits die hard and remembering to wind your watch up is tricky when you can’t set a reminder on your phone. But I count myself lucky that I’m old enough to remember what life was like without mobile phones: when you used to have to be in the red phone box at exactly half past 9 on a Wednesday evening, to talk to your then-boyfriend who was at University at the other end of the country; when you knew that was happening because you’d arranged it the last time you’d talked; when email was only available on half a dozen computers at the library so it wasn’t yet a reliable way to communicate a sudden change of plan; when texting wasn’t invented yet! God that makes me sound old. But I’m glad. Because I have friends 10 years younger than me, that don’t have that comparison. Life has never been mobile-less for them.

Mind you, all of that – epiphany aside – doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got used to relying on my mobile phone for more things than you can count on your fingers and toes.

Giving it up for a bit really makes you realise that the smart phone has a wily way of seducing you, with its all-in-one solutions for life as we know it.

Mobile-less March means all kinds of things I didn’t expect.

Like realising that without multiple phone alarms and snoozing, I’ll have to get up straight away when my battery-powered-alarm beeps in the morning. Like acknowledging that perhaps the reason I’m always late is because of my mobile rather than despite it (unable to communicate that you’re running late is a pressure unbearable enough to ensure you’ll be on time). Like the reason I listen to music more these days is precisely only because it’s easy and cloud-portable, and can be played directly into my ears wherever I am and regardless of whom I’m sat next to. Like the fact that, whether it’s convenient or not, I still have an uncontrollable impulse to take photos and share the way I see things in the world (so if I can’t use my phone, I’ll dust off the Olympus EP1 and probably take better pictures anyway that way). Like an hour on digital media is not enough per day to run your life because you have things like shopping to do, and bills to pay, and friends to liaise with.

Like confessing that – much as I’m trying to stick to the self/family-imposed rules of mobile-less-March – I may have to be forgiven on some minor faults. Yesterday, for example, I had to text my swimming bud from my work phone after leaving my swimming stuff at home: diversion to pick up and a ten minute delay. (For some reason her mobile phone number was saved within my work contacts: likely due to a previous emergency moment, maybe even from the last time I dunked my iPhone 5 mark 1). So I’m not managing this perfectly. But I am managing. For now. Just about.

This is a challenge for me like nothing else I’ve done before and as an experiment I’m really enjoying discovering its effects, both positive and negative. I’m already looking at the world – and myself –differently. And I hope I never forget my ‘Vauxhall platform epiphany’ (as it will henceforth be known) which left me thinking:

‘If today was your last day on earth, how long would you want to spend looking down into a tiny computer rather than the world underneath, above, around and beside you?’

*Yes the photo in this post is my purple breakfast. The urge to take a photo of it was too great. So (confession number 2, dur dur daaaah) I took a photo for personal purposes, with my work phone. But the Instagram on my work phone is my work account, so no Instagrammage for me. Just a little pre-Insta-preview, for you. Because you deserved to see my purple breakfast and I think your life would have been poorer for it, if I’d not made this small sacrifice (/fail) for you/me. What the hell, I’m an addict. So I’m allowed to have foibles.

If you would like to support me in my mobile-less endeavour and support my August trip to help finish building a desperately needed secondary school for deaf children in Eastern Kenya, that would be lovely (and will a/ motivate me to keep going and b/buy actual building materials):



5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tina #

    ‘If today was your last day on earth, how long would you want to spend looking down into a tiny computer rather than the world underneath, above, around and beside you?’

    Wow. That made me think.
    The answer for me would be no time at all, but I say this whilst reading your blog on my phone and stacking the dishwasher…

    I’m going to start leaving my phone by the back door.

    March 11, 2016
  2. dawn #

    Hi Tina,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It does make you think doesn’t it? So hard just to put the phone away. Try dropping it in the bath (a full one) and then you don’t have a choice! 😉

    It’s so easy to do though isn’t it. There’s 6 million things you could be doing or finding out about on your phone whilst stacking the dish washer (such a boring job!). But then you’d probably finish the job quicker if that’s all you were doing. And you might notice other things whilst you’re at it instead.

    I don’t have a dishwasher so spend a lot of time washing up and have noticed the sunshine and the trees a lot more since I dumped/dunked/drowned my phone….and my horizons seem wider somehow.

    Anyway, gotta go…I think I’ve over-run my hour allowed. So half an hour less tomorrow to make up for it – uggg!


    March 11, 2016
  3. I feel like I’ve given up my work colleagues for 2016!!!! It was wonderful to hear how you’re getting on. Well done! I love your epiphany on vauxhall platform. I love that you were the different one. I wonder how many other ways there are too reclaim the ‘ real ‘.
    Looking forward to a catch up very soon xxxk

    March 12, 2016
    • dawn #

      Ah Kath!! So nice to hear from you (and did you notice I’ve added the subscription widget? – can’t believe I’ve not done that before – duuurrhh!).

      I missss youuuuu!! So many times I’ve wanted to just go to whatsapp and send you a voice message or a photo of my pic-ker-nic basket for the day. Some great lunches recently. Including Boy George’s Green soup no less(!).. Guess I’m just going to have to save it all up and tell you later… Warning, I may not stop talking for a while

      (ps you jumping around last Friday still tickles me – I’ve lost count of the number of times that’s made me titter to myself. You know those memories that are bound to make you grin – that’s one of them. Its in the memory bank for future reference. Along with “I’m a good person and I deserve good things”. Love ya x)

      March 12, 2016
  4. Tina H #

    Loving the purple breakfast!
    I too, am an addict and I truly admire you – foibles and all!
    You’ve inspired me; not to give up the phone (because, let’s face it, I’m just not that strong!) but to limit my use of it.
    When I go through self-imposed evening bans, I sew more, read more – even knitted a scarf from beginning to end for the first time (although I did have to watch a couple of you tube instructional videos on my tablet to help!)
    Life with mobiles is good, but it’s great when you can put them away and see what’s going on around you and truly experience it.

    March 12, 2016

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