The story about the the check-out operator who refused to proceed until the customer ceased mobiling (if there is such a nasty word) is hardly new, but it carries a wider truth. It is extraordinary how an otherwise considerate and well-mannered person can sever a conversation mid-sentence to dive into their bag, pocket or pouch to take a call or intercept a text. Were someone to join 2 people who were already talking, basic courtesies would be observed – introductions or whatever. There is often a sense of near desperation to catch the latest incoming thing, seemingly stemming from some kind of anxiety or even a need to feel wanted.
Much the same is true of the constant need to check actively for messages, emails etc. There is clearly some basic psychological mechanism at work here. Whatever its nature, we see that minutes, hour, days become fragmented by incoming “stuff”, much of it trivial and almost all of which can wait. Many of the the “urgent” things and “emergencies” are more cosmetic than real.
My own personal answer (as someone who loves the opportunities presented by the technologies) is to have my phone almost always on vibrate (which is less insistent that ringing), unless I know that I need to link at short notice with someone. I also have restricted the number of people, and especially organisations, that have access to my mobile number. I’m fortunate to have a separate office number at home. If I do need to answer an incoming call, I will say to the person(s) I am with, “will you excuse me”, and move to somewhere quiet if possible.
I never use email on my phone. I can but don’t. This is a way of saying that I will not deal with emails other than when I decide or have the opportunity to hook up my laptop. This is basically a way of organising time. It is a mechanism (entirely contrived) to package up my emailing, writing, conversations into reasonably sustained bouts of time and really focussing on those activities to which I dedicated those packages of time. I don’t do it as well as I would like.
Otherwise there is so much desperate fragmentation. I have friends who are more or less addicted to to electronic communication at the expense of coherence in their daily lives.
I occasionally write bits of formatted prose. Not good enough to be called poems. I wrote this one some time ago, which seems relevant if a rather devoid of hope.
I’m craving space, Leonardo’s ‘continuous quantity’.
Space to breathe the country air,
To hear the distant sounds of stirring nature,
To have no task to perform other than to feel time passing,
Transcendently calm in one of those moments of shared love,
Extending into the geometry of the eternally infinite.
But the jolting assault of the next thing, the next thing, the next thing.
The abrupt, broken discords of outer demands,
The fragmentation of days, hours, minutes, seconds
Into discontinuous shards of numbered events.
Cracked vessels seeping desperate hopes.
Were they ever whole?
Or were they made incomplete,
Mocking illusions of an intactness that never was?