November 8, 2013

We don’t daydream now we have iPhones

By Robert Skinner

Last year we celebrated New Year’s in one of Australia's worst towns. There was no phone reception and no way of contacting the outside world, which explained in part why people persisted living there. It was a seaside town. The tides there were enormous. Twice a day the water disappeared entirely, leaving only mud flats that stretched to the horizon. We assumed it was the ocean trying to get out of town, but twice a day the moon dragged it back in.

There's a lot of anxiety associated with New Year’s Eve – people wondering what they should do with their lives, and more importantly, which party they should do it in. At 00:02 you can see people on their phones trying to work it out. It makes midnight kissing awkward at best.

There was none of that last year. We clambered around on the roof for a while, searching for phone reception or a slightly better town, but eventually we shrugged: Well, we've all got to be somewhere.

 

*

I check my emails like a general in a crisis. They trickle in. I pounce on them like a cat.

It's concerning sometimes, when you roll over in bed to find your hand checking your emails without the help of your brain. But what are we supposed to do? Just lie there like they did in the 50s and listen to the voice in our heads?

Those phones demand our attention.

It was interesting, on New Year’s Eve, to see how often our hands twitched towards our pockets, before we remembered “Oh yeah. No reception.” But just like the weird smell coming in from the beach, we got used to it. Someone used their iPhone to serve canapés. Later, my friend Brian spoke to a crab for an hour. Possibly there were drugs involved, but possibly that's what everyone did for fun, before smartphones came along.

When I came home I was very smug. I took to hiding my phone under the mattress and going for long walks.

I thought: Look at us all with our heads in the cloud. On trains, commuters all bowed over iPhones. Only hobos and deviants looking out the window – do people even daydream anymore? Wonderful things can happen when you're sitting at a bus stop with nothing else to look at.

But I'm back on the grid now.

We have technology that belongs in Orwell's 1984, but we use it like it's a Brave New World drug. There's no need to control us with information if we're hypnotised by it. You could do anything, it says. You could be anyone. I sit in the cloud for hours, usually in my underwear – growing a spotty beard and wondering why my life isn't more exciting. Some days I forget to leave the house.

Our technology is big and powerful and extremely sexy, but it can sweep through our lives like a dust storm and fill every crack of our consciousness.

 

*

 

For a long time I drove tours through the outback. My favourite part was always bush camping – pulling off somewhere in the desert, opening a beer, starting a fire and watching the sun go down.

Sometimes a tourist, anxious to get to Uluru, would say:

“But why are we stopping here? There is nothing.”

“I know. Isn't it wonderful?”

 

Robert Skinner

Robert Skinner was born and raised on the Adelaide Plains. He is now based in Melbourne.

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