i Navlepilleri

Tiden før smartphones

OK, det er måske ikke det mest originale take, som præsteres i ‘What Did People Do Before Smartphones? No one can remember.’. Men ikke desto mindre fik artiklen mig til at tænke. For jeg kan ikke nægte at jeg kan genkende dele af det:

Some things are easy to reconstruct. Email came to you at your desk, which means you didn’t receive it while at lunch or once you’d left the office. MapQuest was around, but you had to print out directions before you went anywhere. Photography was less a part of daily life, absent social media on which to post. Some dumbphones had cameras, but they were terrible, and stand-alone digital cameras were still expensive and mostly used to generate images for printing.

Okay, fine, but how did people occupy the time, attention, and perceptual orientation that have now been overtaken by smartphone use? Answering this question seems important, because smartphone use is supposedly deleterious. Extreme use is often blamed for contributing to anxiety, depression, and compulsivity—and almost everyone seems to use these devices to extremes. Smartphones are also said to disconnect us from the world and from one another. Instead of enjoying lunch or tourist attractions, people take photographs of them, frequently to secure approval from their peers, who are also using smartphones. The sociologist Sherry Turkle famously lamented how these devices encourage people to live “alone together.”

I asked some middle-aged friends to think back to life in the old days, when we still lived together together—and then to tell me what they remembered doing. “What the heck did I do?” one replied. Some fragments of childhood life could be recovered: shooting hoops in the driveway, or passing notes in class, or burning time hunting for friends to burn time with. But the nature of our idle life as adults evaded memory. Even surfing the early web, the precursor to today’s scrolling, was made tedious by slow connections. Other things took longer too: consulting a paper map before driving anywhere, finding and then conversing with a salesperson to select an appliance. Daily non-activities—waiting at the supermarket line, sitting in traffic, walking the dog—took place under different circumstances. Worse ones.

A spine-chilling revelation: We couldn’t remember what we did because there was nothing to remember having done. We did nothing, and it was horrible. Filling the nothingness with activity of any sort became a constant exercise.

I cannot overemphasize how little there was to do before we all had smartphones. A barren expanse of empty time would stretch out before you: waiting for the bus, or for someone to come home, or for the next scheduled event to start. Someone might be late or take longer than expected, but no notice of such delay would arrive, so you’d stare out the window, hoping to see some sign of activity down the block. You’d pace, or sulk, or stew.

The despair that accompanied this dead time implied and almost required an existentialist orientation to life itself: absurd and pointless, a sea of doldrums that never washed up to shore. My generation’s penchant for malaise must be a direct result of being alone with ourselves so much, with so little reason. We’d read an oral-hygiene pamphlet or a shampoo bottle. We’d follow the smooth-spinning hands of the clock. Yes, sure, other and better and more useful acts were possible, but only if we knew in advance exactly how much time we had to kill, and where, and under which circumstances. But we never did know until it was too late.

Before smartphones, people didn’t invest their in-between time into forging social bonds or doing self-improvement. They mostly suffered through constant, endless boredom. So let us not lament or malign the time we waste on smartphones, at least not so much. It is bad to be seduced into argument or conspiracism, to shop or lust or doomscroll, to bring one’s job into the dentist’s chair or the living-room recliner. But it was also bad to suffer the terror of monotony. Now there is too much happening, but before, ugh, nothing ever happened.

Jeg er … usikker på, hvad jeg lavede før i tiden. Som barn og tidlig teenager læste jeg en masse. Jeg dyrkede karate to gange om ugen, var en genert og kejtet stræber, der gjorde rent fire gange om ugen i min mors lægepraksis. Jeg gik til gymnasiefester, blev afvist af piger og undgik slagsmål i Jomfru Ane Gade. Og jeg tror i almindelighed at fjernsynet og siden PC- og konsolspil underholdt mig og mine ligeså nørdede venner.

Men som ung voksen? Jeg havde ikke en mobil før jeg blev 17, men nettet fyldte meget allerede inden da, og jeg tilbragte mange timer i gymnasiets IT-lokale sammen med de andre blege drenge med en udfordrende aknesituation (har man stadig den slags lokaler? Jeg tvivler, tiden må have udslettet dem. Men mine forældre var virkelig længe om at få en blot moderat udholdelig netforbindelse derhjemme, så jeg var tvunget til at sidde de gustne steder og flygte fra virkeligheden), hvor jeg chattede med andre socialt akavede mennesker fra eksotiske destinationer som Viborg, Skælskør og endda Ishøj. I årene frem til at smartphones for alvor blev en ting, så tilbragte jeg min digitale tid foran en laptop, hvor jeg lavede uproduktive ting som at skrive navlebeskuende blogindlæg. Hvor dejligt at den pinlige fase i mit liv er ovre!

Jeg kan også sagtens huske, hvor usandsynligt kedeligt det var at vente, når der ikke var noget at fylde tiden ud med. At stirre på uret mens tiden blot skulle gå. At som 11 årig at vente utålmodigt i forhallen i KFUM-hallen på at min far fik snøvlet sig sammen til at hente mig efter endnu en af de håndboldtræninger, hvor jeg blev drillet og som jeg hadede så intenst, men ikke ville give op overfor (FORTÆLLEREN: Han gav op efterhånden, men bevarede sit altfortærende had til håndbold). Det tog en evighed og jeg vil ikke ønske det for nogen at den tid kommer tilbage. Men igen: vi er i min barndom og ungdom. Og jeg har kun diffuse minder om det nu.

Jeg har heller ikke for alvor været nødt til at kede mig som voksen. Jeg prøver af og til demonstrativt – f.eks. når jeg er i offentlig transport og har glemt min Kindle – at vise mig selv, hvor dygtig jeg er til ikke at fiske telefonen frem. Bare sidde der og være fuldkornsagtig, virkelig tilstede i netop det enkelte øjeblik, reflekterende og helt, helt nærværende. Skabe ægte og meningsfulde bånd til mine medmennesker. Men det føles formålsløst. Dels er det kedeligt. Dels sidder alle andre og kigger ned i telefoner. Dels kunne jeg jo aldrig drømme om rent faktisk at tage kontakt og interagere med et fremmed menneske, når jeg er i det offentlige rum. Så hvad er helt præcis pointen med at lade som at jeg ikke sidder og drømmer om et andet sted?

Jeg læste ironisk nok artiklen samme uge, som der var nedenstående pædagogisk opbyggelige artikel i Børneavisen1:

IMG 3775

Så vanen tro gælder der andre regler for børn, end der gør for voksne. Børn må gerne kede sig, det er faktisk sundt for hjernen. De har brug for et mindre-skærm-og-brug-din-fantasi regime. Men ikke for mig. Min hjerne skal fandeme ikke sidde dér og “beskæftige sig med indre ting”. Det lyder aldeles rædsomt og som en decideret dårlig idé, hvis jeg skal være ganske ærlig.

 

 

  1. Ja, jeg lever stadig i den vrangforestilling, at hvis blot jeg eksponerer mine børn for læsestof ubønhørligt og konstant, så får de samme usundt narkomane forhold til læsning og nyheder, hvorfor jeg troligt abonnerer på en papiravis for børn []