My Phone-less Day in London

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.

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48 thoughts on “My Phone-less Day in London

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! You have a great writing style and I can relate to the need we have to record things using technology instead of just being happy with the experience and our own memories. “Memory is the diary we all carry about with us”, said Oscar Wilde…but he never had an I phone. 🙂

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  2. I really like this post because it’s so real- as in, it confronts a very real problem in our modern society. When I was in Seoul, 9 out 10 person on the metro was immersed in their own technological world with their ears plugged in and their eyes glued to the screen, even though some of them were with friends. It boggles me how engaged we can be in these worlds behind the screen, while so many things are happening right in front of them. Although, I admit I can be the same sometimes, and to be honest, it feels good to just relax after a tiring day by myself and browse the net, but it’s important to strike a balance for that.

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  3. This post has so much truth in it! I often think I’ll try and not touch my phone/iPad/pc for a day… Or not go on social media. It’s hard to contemplate because you’re right, we seem to rely on these things so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always try and be truthful in my writing! I often challenge myself to go a day without the internet but it is so difficult to do! We are just adjusted to it nowadays. I normally just limit myself or go on walks and leave my phone behind. It helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I so relate! Himself and I visited the breathtakingly beautiful Crater Lake, in Oregon, some years back, with his sister and her husband. I just looked and looked, drinking it in, then at one point I glanced back over my shoulder to see if he was enjoying it as much as I was. He and brother-in-law were standing a little way off, comparing cameras, completely oblivious to the view. Argh! (Mind you, he did get a couple good pics – whereas I usually don’t even remember to take any.)

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    1. Ooh I’m very jealous, I want to go to Oregon!
      I can relate to both sides of your story. Many times I have been the person to stop and soak in the view whilst getting frustrated at people looking at it through a small screen. However, I’ve also been the person focusing on taking a 1000 photos trying to get the perfect one.
      Suppose it is just what makes people happy in that moment!

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  5. I always carry a mobile/cell phone simply for using in an emergency. I rarely use it, and wouldn’t dream of walking arouhd texting people. Other than on holiday, or day trips to somewhere of historical interest or natural beauty, I wouldn’t be carrying a camera. (I’m old fashioned and my phone doesn’t take photos.) So many people miss out on seeing and appreciating everyday sights by constantly ringing up or texting people – or whatever other social media they use – or listening to music through headphones. Your phone-less day showed how much more you could see and enjoy without it.
    Remember to stop and listen was a good summing up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I sooooo agree with you. The only reason I carry a phone is for emergencies. and because of my constant traveling more often than not i don’t even have a valid phone number and need to find free wifi if i want to text *read whatsapp* someone.

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  6. I love this. Ironically, I would love to reblog it around the world. Technology is not the be-all, end-all. It is a tool. Is it rewiring our brains? I’ll leave that to others to debate.

    You experienced the human condition to its heart. Why do people throw away that opportunity to build a beautiful, pictorial interior landscape? I spent a semester in England–before iphones. I remember the images clearly. I have written about it two decades later.

    The other night I was sitting at the bar in a pub. Was anybody having fun with bar banter? No. They were a square of people staring down at a thing. Same posture. Same body language. Same stare.

    I have a rule: always leave technology in the car, especially when you are meeting somebody for drinks, dinner, lunch. If somebody thumbs through a phone after I have taken the time to show up, I make my excuses politely and leave. (Exception: If I expect a certain call that I must take, I explain to my friend why I might be interrupted.)

    Phones are great. I use mine all the time. I have fun taking pics. But for part of the time, it deserves stowing away in a pocket. Especially with the stimulation you described in your essay.

    What I have loved about some French cafes: the bistro tables lined up, with people turned toward the sidewalk to watch the human condition go by. Occasionally, they engage their companions and then they enjoy life unfolding, completely through authentic senses.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on Socially Yours, and commented:
    My good frieind Catherine reblogged this, so of course I had to read it to. Kristian’s thoughts here echo a growing (I hope) sentiment shared by my 32 year old daughter who is raising her 18-month old son in New York City. She is trying to raise him so he is not too overly fascinated by the ubiquitous screen – the “sea of phones.” When she got married in 2011, she placed a piece of paper on everyone’s seats, asking them not to use their cell phones during the ceremony. She didn’t want to see the sea of screens in her wedding photos. Can’t say that I blame her. She is a fan of Jack White, formerly of the White Stripes, and he is an artist who likes to see his audience faces and see them enjoy the music, rather than trying to capture the memory on a device. My daughter has often asked, to no one in particular, why we collectively feel the need to capture every experience and memory. I am proud of her wise observation. Look around, as much as I love technology, there is reason for concern. Sometimes the best devices are the ones we are born with. I rarely leave home without a camera or an iPhone, but I am trying to use it less, or at least in tandem with my own biological memory. I want to absorb more organically, not record pixels. Ironically, there was a series of iPhone photos taken by a man who rides the NYC subway and documented a very rare site indeed – a dying practice – of people reading books on the subway. That will be a rare, if not non-existant sight for the next generation. I applaud my daughter and this Kristian for their wisdom and insight to see with our eyes and remember with our brains. Enjoy this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. For a long time I refused to get engaged in Social Medias. I did not want to become one of those walking head downwards through their lives. But when my English book was published I found myself on several platforms. I love some more some less. But I also realized that I started checking my phone all the time. I put my phone aside when I am with others. I don’t even take it out when I am in a waiting room. I make it an effort to not let me be rouled by technology but use it for my convinience.
    Btw. I love Camdan Market. It is amazing. Was there 4 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so agree with you! Social media is a dangerous thing. I originally kept away for as long as possible but once I started it became alarmingly addictive very quickly. It is like people have become afraid to let our minds become bored.
      I read somewhere that 60% of people check their phone the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. I realised I was part of that 60% so I stopped. I now make an effort to read last thing before bed. Which I am enjoying a lot more.
      And yeah, I loved Camdan Market. Such an interesting place.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, this brings some memories! I went as well to the US embassy for my work travel visa, which still lies unused in my passport. I remember going around without knowing what time it was, stopping around to read the displays of the parking meters and not being able to wash off the feeling of having lost my phone, for I couldn’t feel its weight in my suit pocket.

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      1. Well, my company provided me one in the event I need to go over there for meetings and such, but so far I haven’t, as they deemed more appropriate to send me to some Mid Eastern countries. So the first time I’m going to use it I’m sure I’ll spend quite a long time in the Homeland Security’s company while they clear me out…

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  10. Great post! It definitely got me thinking about my own dependence on technology and how much I use my phone these days. I am so guilty of this! I often find myself distracted by trying to get the perfect photograph, thinking about how it’ll fit into Instagram or a blog post. We’re surrounded by so much beauty and constantly distracted by the demand for technology. It’s becoming harder and harder to live without it. It’s been so long since I’ve gone a whole day without my phone, I’m not sure how I would fare to be honest. Even when hiking I use it for pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is so addictive right!? I can totally emphasise with you. I guess it is good that we are aware of our distractions so hopefully we can work towards a finding a right balance? I can’t remember when I last went a day without my phone either. I often challenge myself to go a day without the internet but it is so difficult to do. We are just adjusted to the convenience. I normally just limit myself or go on walks and leave my phone behind.

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  11. I really enjoyed this post. It really took me back to my time living in England and I could picture all the places you talked about- and made me think about the hundreds of pictures I took instead of actually enjoying those places. Strange how we feel as if we have to experience the world through a lens.

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  12. This is a awesome post! Insightful! I can identify with you. We went on a 10 day trip to Europe in the Spring, didn’t bring our cell phones for to call and text internationally was going to be too much money. I will tell you our family had a wonderful time and really didn’t miss the phones. Immersed ourselves in the experience and I am so ready for it again! We connected flights in London and sadly that was all we saw of London. We all want to go and explore London sometime! I will say tho I did have my camera, LOVE taking pictures, but you are right we don’t always need to be looking through a lens!

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  13. It’s a fantastic feeling, isn’t it? I’m not too bad with my phone, but I tend to become distracted by my camera pretty frequently, especially while traveling. It’s funny because I take pictures in an attempt to remember and document experiences, but the act of photographing an experience actually prevents me from completely experiencing the experience, gah! So I try to make a point of leaving my camera behind every now and then. Also … I was phoneless in Taiwan and became super aware of how often people chose to interact with their devices instead of each other. Technology is incredible, but it’s sure changing how we connect with each other.

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  14. I am not attached to my phone 24/7; however, I like being able to take a photo with it if I don’t have my camera. Without the distraction of technology, we really can take time to notice what is going on around us, or have to interact with total strangers. It really drives me crazy when I see parents texting while their small child is tagging along being totally ignored.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Yes my husband says I’m addicted to my phone (internet). Well I’d have to agree with that. Sometimes I forget to take pictures but the worst when my phone was stolen and I hadnt backed it up. Lost all my photos😂. Was talking with son and a few of his friends, they were looking at pics on phone and wanted to print one. But my printer not working, told them go to walmart and print one out. They were like okay-then I asked if they knew how we got our pics before smart phones. Of course Mom use a camera, then i realized they had never taken film into develop -the old fashion way. So went on to explain about snapping a pic, manually rolling film forward till finishef roll. Cant see what taken til developed. If they needed a flash jad to push switch and WAIT for red light. Then finish whole roll and take in. They then said and then you get the pictures right back. Hell no -you have to wait a week, then go back and pick up.
    OMG-you’d of thought I told them the world was ending by their flabberghasted responses. We (those of us a bit older) forget sometimes that some young people have not been exposed to some of the antiquated processes of the past. (Have made it a point to expose both sons to a wide variety of things old and new). When we see young people glued to their phones obssessively, it many times doesn’t mean they are being disrespectful, simply that’s how they connect with the world, its the way they know. Another great post – never been to London but maybe one day. I say take pics it’s they way you share your travels and experiences. Chely

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  16. I loved your post. Few years ago, I had reflected on this need to be “connected” all the time and had realized that it was not the way I wanted to live my life. The changes I have made since then have been quite liberating.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I really enjoyed this post, it is fantastic! That is exactly how I travel. Great imagery and passion in your words. It must be the generation thing to be so conscious of being naked without the electronics. I plan on showing your post to my sons who are forever keeping the obvious off their ears or eyes, my son was hand-washing dishes with his laptop on top of the sink and watching a video at the same time – it’s like they have (extra) electronic body parts – hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much! “Conscious of being naked without electronics” is a great sentence that sums up this post.
      It’s scary how addictive screens are. It’s definitely a new challenge to the new generation that can’t be avoided. At least your son is helping out and washing the dishes! haha.

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  18. I really enjoyed reading this and I was smiling while reading 😀 I love watching people, too! Most of us are busy documenting our lives that we actually forget to enjoy the moment. The generation today is always busy trying to post photos or status updates online as fast as they can as if it’s a race or something. I am no exception, but I try to do “digital detox” as much as I can, it helps, actually. And hey! you survived the day, right?

    Great post! I will surely come back for more readings 🙂

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