Thursday, 8 May 2014

Lessons from a Broken Phone

So, once again, I am up in an aeroplane, from Hanover to Heathrow as so often used to be the case when things were busier and I was more inclined to travel. So, here I am, high above the clouds and the irksome worries of everyday life. One cannot be troubled by what is left behind down there, or what awaits upon landing, when trapped in a seat at 35000 feet without communications with the rest of one’s life. Well, I suppose it is possible, but it is not really to be advised on the grounds it would be an exercise in futility, unless some firm resolution could be arrived at in the “thinking time” provided by such periods of enforced introspection.

I decided actually to eschew my usual colourful internal contemplation in favour of sitting with my eyes closed and allowing the sounds of the plane and the people it contained to percolate uncommented upon, into my consciousness. It is quite an interesting exercise to do this and it is surprising just what a variety of sounds exist which we usually don’t allow ourselves to be aware of. From the hum of the engines and the thrum of beat frequencies produced by the minor differences in their pitch, to the enthusiastic conversation of the Middle Eastern gentleman, in joyous tones, conversing with a previously po-faced Hanoverian lady who now appears to have come out of her shell in a wonderfully animated and liberated way in response.
Then there are the various crinkling of plastic wrappers of biscuits and crisps and the rushing white-noise of the air conditioning. None of this is interesting, per se, but the act of noticing it where I hadn’t before is quite fascinating.
And while I was sitting, just registering the sounds without opinion in a dispassionate manner, I remembered suddenly that I had broken my mobile phone: Dropped and smashed accidentally upon the tiled floor of a bar in Paderborn yesterday evening after a moment’s inattention. My shiny South Korean Small Object of Desire sending fragments across the room and dooming me to radio silence for the foreseeable future. All in a split second of carelessness.
How tiresome.  But  how liberating. Nobody can call me and ask for help with diagnosing technical issues or request me to go and give a presentation in some part of the world I have no wish to visit. Of course, my friends also  cannot invite me to parties or ask advice on the construction of clay pizza ovens or how many grammes of raisins they should put in their parsnip wine. But in general, the loss of this lifeline to the world of other-people-beyond-my-immediate-vicinity feels like a kind of opportunity.
I wandered, after my phone smashing incident, back through Paderborn to my hotel  with the strangest feeling of bereavement almost, and I wondered how it had happened that I had become so dependent upon this small device.
So, I meandered through the streets, looking in shop windows, my vague melancholy displaced as I went about admiring paintings and being amused by this particular tapestry that was on display for all to see, despite being rather gratuitously explicit.  
These people are not fretting about their investment portfolio.
It seems in antiquity, there were, amongst all the tuberculosis and religious repression, still good times to be had by those determined and limber enough to pursue them. Had I merely rushed  past on the phone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this tableau and its depiction of enthusiastic debauchery. Immediate benefits, you see?
An odd sense of liberation began to dawn, a removal of the compulsion to be “in contact”.
I wonder briefly if perhaps I should build in contingency to my travel for such occasions: How would I, for instance call to rearrange my flight had I got stuck on the autobahn? I would be pretty stuck, yes. Maybe I could purchase a phone card for credit on payphones. Do they still exist? You know, I can’t recall seeing one for years. But perhaps, like the hum of the engines, I wouldn’t notice until I brought my attention to bear on the subject.
I think that in the twenty years or more I have had a mobile phone for business travel, this is the first time I have been without the services of one. Ok, the first ones required considerable wrist strength to hold any lengthy conversation but there was always a link to the world of friends, loved ones and support back at the office. And now, here I am with no phone. Is it worth contingency for such rare incidences? I suppose it is one of those calculations we perform, based upon our inherent “risk thermostat”: What situations might arise, what seriousness do they present and how much trouble are we prepared to go to in order to prevent such circumstances being more than a minor inconvenience?
It’s a question of general interest I suppose, affecting such things as insurance and disease prevention, self-defence and smoking. What risks are we prepared to accept in the name of convenience or enjoyment and what do feel an imperative urge to plan contingency for?
I didn’t miss my flight. I might have some issues with getting my car when I arrive at the airport as I use the parking chap who takes it away and brings it back when I land (presumably washing his hands due to the filthy, elderly and knackered state of my old Skoda, so different from the shiny BMWs left by other, more image-conscious and wealthy business travelers).
In general then, perhaps we distress ourselves too much with imaginings. Somehow, sitting here regarding the sounds around me, I feel that this must be the case and resolve to bring the same detached  observation to whatever troublesome thoughts appear to attempt to ruffle the mellow spiritual creaminess in which I attempt to live my life.

Let’s see if it works with in flight turbulence, shall we?


Librarian said...

So far, I have never needed a mobile phone for business; the three or so trade fairs I worked on every year were the only times when it was occasionally necessary for me to reach my boss, a colleague or a customer by phone, or the other way round. Everything else was always only done from the office, and my mobile phone was (and still is) nearly exclusively for my private use. Therefore, I do not really know what it must be like if one has to be available all the time, 24/7. When I am not there, I am not there, that's it.
But owning a mobile phone has changed travel experiences nonetheless. Before, whenever I went away, I sent a postcard - which often reached my parents or anyone else back home long after my return. Nobody had a sure way of knowing whether I'd actually arrived at my destination until I'd come back home and tell them about it, and it would take several weeks until photos were developed and could be shown. I don't think people were very worried about their loved ones not being in touch with them for days or weeks; nowadays, if those who are on Facebook do not post for some hours or days, they are either quickly forgotten or their friends get terribly worried that something must be wrong with them.
It is all a question of habit, isn't it, and my habits have changed since the advent of mobile phones and emails, too.
As for listening to the surrounding sounds, I do that quite often; today, for instance, the train back from my course was such an occasion. I was rather tired from a week crammed full of lessons and did not feel like reading, so I just shut my eyes and listened.
More often than not, though, I must admit that I find the noisy world around me less fascinating and more annoying.

Clara Brooks said...

It's true that mobile phones can cause distractions while traveling. People can be well caught up in taking a photo of a display, forgetting to breathe in the beauty of its art first. Although, a phone can be quite more than a distraction as well. For example, it serves as a better memory of the whole travel experience. A phone will always have its advantages and disadvantages, after all. Hahaha! Thanks for sharing that! All the best! :)

Clara Brooks @ TelcoWorld

PerlNumquist said...

It seems new technologies can be a distraction and a force for a reduction in the qualities of our experiences. Socrates bemoaned writing as the death of memory. And possibly to an extent he had a point. I have indeed seen people miss the moment due to the screen between them and an experience. We should resolve not to let this happen. But this is more a problem of attitude than of technology. I like the repository of pictures on my phone reminding me of the places I have been. Often, there are things I would not remember; memories I treasure which would have been lost without that prompting. Judicious use is, as always, the key, I think.