Last week, I travelled to Edinburgh to visit my client who lives there and while I was waiting at Gatwick airport, I noticed I wasn’t getting a 4G signal. I don’t know why but any time this happens, the first thing I think of in some mild panic is, “Did I forget to pay the bill?” Then I quickly remind myself that the rolling, Giffgaff SIM only contract costs just £10 a month and auto renews anyway. So, no, that is not the problem.
I logged on to the airport’s two hour free wifi and didn’t let the absence of any network signal bother me. I bought a bottle of water that comes with a free copy of The Daily Telegraph and enjoyed reading a hard copy for once, instead of the electronic version I have been enjoying recently – what with all the political shenanigans surrounding Brexit.
When I arrived a bit early at our meeting place, there still wasn’t a signal and by now, I was suspecting some sort of network problem. Instead of becoming increasingly frustrated however, I chose to take advantage of the situation and instead, invest some more time into my relatively recently acquired learned behaviour of ’embracing boredom’ at any opportunity. I have written about this before on the subject of Deep Work and it simply involves resisting the temptation to grab your smartphone within a millisecond of finding yourself waiting for anything. In a queue; TV paused while your friend or partner leaves the room for a minute or two; at a table in a cafe while someone else gets the coffees, the list goes on and is very familiar to all of us.
This new habit is designed to help you remain focussed on a Deep Work task when you inevitably hit that wall where the ideas appear to have dried up, or you are struggling to resist the temptation to check your emails barely ten minutes after last checking them.
It is still a struggle for me and I am in complete favour of the idea of embracing boredom but on this day of the O2 collapse in network functionality, it got me thinking about how excruciating it must have been for the estimated 32 million people up and down the country.
I read the following day about one person, a well known journalist who was due to appear on the BBC programme Question Time that evening and was out of his office and home all day. He was relying on his smartphone to keep him up to date with the day’s events ahead of his appearance. Other examples which when you read them, sound a bit comical but must have been extremely frustrating for the people involved included people not being able to use the famous ‘Boris Bikes’ in London, bus timetables crashing (at least it didn’t cause the buses themselves to crash!), thousands of smart meter installations were cancelled and so on.
All of which causes me to wonder what would happen if one day, more than one network went down, or, if as so many, silly celebrity-led headlines tend to claim, someone managed to single-handedly “break the internet”.
Imagine if that actually happened?
What would we do?
Well, for a start, I think you would see people all over the place holding their phone in their hand, staring at it in disbelief. Then, because there was nothing on the screen to keep their attention from anything else, they might look up and notice they are not the only one suffering such outrageous lack of service. This in turn, would give them something to discuss with their fellow sufferers and then…they would actually talk to each other about the sheer inconvenience of it all.
One person may say they are desperate to get through to their loved one as today is their birthday or they had a driving test and are desperate to find out how they got on. This in turn, would prompt another person to proudly but humbly at the same time somehow declare that taking the time to teach their son how to drive was one of the best investments of time he has ever made (that would be me) as well as recalling the enjoyment of being taught by his own Dad alongside the same driving instructor he learned with also. (That would be me again.)
It is easy to see how the world could grind to a halt if and when another network crash comes colliding into our world of ubiquitous distraction and treadmill activities. Amid all the very understandable frustration at such a situation, hopefully most of us could appreciate the opportunity to embrace a bit of boredom by turning it into a rare glimpse into the lives of other human beings sat right next to us.
In the spirit of openness, here’s my latest Screen Time headline statistics: