Last year I visited London for a few days as I needed to go to the US embassy to pick up my working visa for America. Luckily I have a friend in London who kindly let me stay at her place for a few days. My interview was at 8am in the morning. If you have ever had one of these dreaded embassy interviews before you’ll know that you aren’t allowed to take anything in the building except your passport and documents.
So after my interview ended at about 10am, I was in the middle of London without any technology. No phone, iPod, camera, watch, gameboy, tamagotchi, NOTHING! I was alone with only my thoughts in one of the most exciting cities in the world. I thought I’d make the most of this rare occasion and go exploring for the day.
It felt so liberating! I felt like Neo in The Matrix after he took the red pill and could finally see the “real world.” My first stop was Hyde park. Without the distraction of listening to music, texting or taking photos, I leisurely strolled through the park and I began to actually look at the people I was sharing the streets with.
I love people watching, and the dense streets of London are the perfect place for it. I saw lots of tourists snapping photos and looking lost. I saw a small child have a temper tantrum and the mother look on the verge of a mental breakdown. I saw an important businessman on his phone talking about important business (I knew he was important because he was using a wireless headset and using phrases like “ballpark figure”, “game changer” and “110%”). I saw a woman attempt to throw her Starbucks cup into a bin and miss. Then pick it up and miss again. Then pick it up a third time and carefully place it in and look around embarrassingly to see if anyone saw her previous two failures. Who needs a phone with that sort of entertainment!?
Without a phone or watch I had no way of knowing what time it was. I had to go up to random people in the street and ask them for the time. One guy was so taken aback by my request that he looked at me like I just asked if I could kick his dog, then relutantly told me it was “about one I think” without looking at his watch. It truly is a friendly city.
I then took a train up to Camdan Market. I figured out how to get there by using one of them paper map things. For those who don’t know, a ‘map’ is like a static version of Google Earth or GPS printed on a large sheet of paper.
Camdan is such great area of London with tons of character. A very pluralistic atmosphere with people, clothes and art from all over the world. It was at this point in the day where my liberated feeling began to wear off.
I started to feel frustrated that I couldn’t take photos of all the cool things I was seeing. I realised I was in one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world and I couldn’t document the occasion! I actually didn’t want to go anywhere interesting anymore incase I saw something amazing and couldn’t take a photo! I wanted to go back to my friends house, pick up my phone and then come back so I could enjoy it better. How crazy is that?!
I caught myself having these thoughts and after a bit of self-analysis I understood how ridiculous they were. Why was it so important to take photographs? Is my own experience and memory of the occasion not enough? Am I only able to experience the real world in terms of sharable and pixelated data?
Technology has an unparalleled and unprecedented power to get in the way of every other important and precious thing around us. You just have to go to any public place and look at the sea of phones to see this. If you go to gig or a sporting event you’ll be confronted by thousands of little camera flashes speckling the crowd.
This phone-less day made me realise how much my phone had become a barrier between me experiencing real things. Even to this day, whenever I am experiencing anything new or interesting I can’t stifle the thought about how it could be packaged in a Facebook post, or an Instagram picture, or a blog like this. Which bothers me a lot and I am trying my best to rectify. I guess the only prescription for this is to try and live in the moment more. Find the right balance between taking photos for memories and just experiencing life as it happens. Remaining emotionally connected to real life experiences and the natural world, rather than focusing on how to articulate it afterwards. Remembering to stop and listen.