I recently ‘went dark’ on social media. This situation was put upon me by the needs of a video production which, at my creative request, needed to be shot on an iPhone. So, I reluctantly agreed to take a punch for the team and be parted from both my phone and my iPad for three days.
Not only were they away from my side, they were also set to ‘Airplane Mode’. In electronic terms I would quite simply cease to exist. Prior to this the longest I had been offline was during trips to the cinema and downtime for iOS updates. Well, perhaps an exaggeration – but you get the idea. My evolving progression of phones have all been switched on 24/7 for more than fifteen years. I got my first mobile phone when I was doing my A-levels, it was a black Motorola with a stub antenna and a backlit rubberised keypad. There was a feature named ‘SMS’, but it didn’t seem like something that would catch on; it did – and my phones have been switched on ever since!
Not wishing to go entirely cold-turkey I decided to prepare in advance, to get used to the silence, and left my phone switched off the night before I had to hand it over. And so, a three-day blackout began. I was terrified. My genuine concern was that people might think I’d died or had a terrible accident. People would send messages and get no response. My various accounts wouldn’t even say ‘Away’ or ‘Busy’, but ‘Offline’. And what if I did have an accident? I’d be lying bleeding somewhere, cursing the decision to hand my devices over to a film crew. For three days I was in a state of continual concern that my train may be late and I’d be unable to let anyone know of my delay. How did people manage before they had mobiles? I guess that when a loved one went out of the front door in the morning you’d just have to assume they’d come back at some point. Nowadays we begin to feel mild concern if we don’t receive a text to let us know someone has reached the end of the street safely.
My first day of living ‘off the grid’ was quite pleasant – I was a little more focussed at work, and in the evening I read a book and watched a movie. I even went to bed at a reasonable hour. I’d only been disconnected from the world for a few hours, and it was bearable – even a little enjoyable.
The second day in the digital wilderness was somewhat more tough. By now people would surely be wondering where I was. The regular publishing of photos of my cat, cups of coffee, or my shoes, had ceased – depriving society of a much-needed social commentary. In my imagination there was a queue of undelivered text messages accumulating, Skype calls going unanswered, tweets not receiving a response. It wasn’t so much the state of being disconnected that was worrying me most, rather the simple lack of a phone in my pocket. I’m guessing that you’ve also had the experience of reaching into a pocket where you believed your phone to be and felt a wave of panic when you find the pocket empty. I experienced that several times, patting at my jeans thinking I’d lost my phone. I even pulled a pair of headphones out of my bag and had them in my ears before realising there was nothing to plug them into. Also, having not worn a watch for several years, I had no idea of the time. I now have a feeling my persistent and speedy battery decline is due to pulling out my phone every five minutes to light up the screen simply to see the time. Note to self – buy a watch.
Day two’s angst subsided slightly once I was home from work – thankfully on time – and was able to use a desktop computer to briefly reconnect with mankind and the topics of the day. This method of getting online, until relatively recently the only way of getting online, seemed rather archaic in isolation. It was vaguely reminiscent of the ’90s. Back then I wanted to do my school homework upstairs I had to carry a beige 486 PC, a 15″ CRT monitor and a 25m telephone extension cord up to my bedroom; and a box of tissues.
On day three I was reunited with my beloved gadgets and I have returned to the 21st century. I took a photo of a donut. A small trickle of alerts came through, but not the torrent I expected. No one noticed I was gone, no one cared I was not in their lives, no one expressed any concern for my wellbeing – those minor niggles aside, most crucially of all, I can once again alleviate awkward silences in social situations by pretending to be looking at something on my phone. Phew.
I went into town this morning and snapped this Instagram of a meerkat wearing a spacesuit – I then had to explain to a Russian the social significance of ‘comparethemarket.com‘. Life would be terribly dull without a phone!