A while back I found myself discussing my morning commute to work with a friend of my mother’s.
“Ah, you must have seen the whale!” she said.
Whale? I’m pretty sure there were no whales on the track. I had images of great hulking plastic whales sticking out of the roofs of houses in the trendier districts of Bristol through which I passed on a daily basis. And though I thought about it carefully, nothing seemed to ring a bell. There was no whale.
“Yes, there’s a big sculpture of a whale, right next to the train line. Have you seen it?”
I thought I knew this line better than I knew the lines on the back of my hand. How had I missed the mighty whale? I scrabbled around for a response, and the best I could come up with was “I usually sit on the opposite side of the train.”
This, I immediately realised, was an untruth. I sat on that side of the train this morning, I dimly remembered. The side with the whale.
So how was it that I had somehow missed an enormous whale sculpture, lying languidly next to the rails like a branch line wicker man? The answer slowly dawned on me.
I was on my phone.
It’s a peculiar thing, the modern craze of being on your phone, all day, every day. Back in the late 90s I can vividly recall a school friend, who returned to school after the summer of our GCSEs out of uniform and suddenly transformed from the quietest girl in the year, to a sixth form extrovert with a much older boyfriend and a new-fangled instrument called a mobile phone, which would occasionally make an appearance in the common room, to howls of derision from our corner of the room, who were utterly convinced that she was on the fast track to a career on the 1980s Stock Exchange. Little did we know that years later, we would all be permanently glued to these contraptions, and she was simply an early adopter, whilst we were nothing but a bunch of wretched luddites in comparison.
But what effect are they having on our lives? I was so attached to mine, that I was no longer noticing things that were right in front of me. I spend my mornings and evenings on the ten minute journey to and from work, peering into the ever-expanding world of the internet. I avoid eye contact with anyone on the train. Why, I could be missing out on some great romance kindled in the fires of what according to Michael Portillo on Great Railway Journeys is one of only a handful of lines paltry enough to have actual request stops. I could be missing out on some sort of Brief Encounter style tortured quasi-relationship, where our eyes met across the coffee trike at a station in one of the more upmarket neighbourhoods, and our lives were never the same again.
Or perhaps more importantly, I could be missing out on Piglet.
Could I? Is that what we are doing, us digital millennials, always on our phones, tablets, laptops. Am I missing out on some vital bonding because I am brexting* like crazy while he feeds?
Today, Piglet and I (and my ever-present mother) returned home from holiday. For some unknown reason, I lay awake in bed most of last night, unable to sleep (my mother concluded that this was because I have a cough, and not only that, but I “always” have a cough, and perhaps I should “get it checked out.” I already have a mental image of a GP shaking their head sadly as I exit that hypothetical appointment, and despairing as the NHS crumbles under the weight of yet another paranoid hypochondriac). This meant that today I was knackered, and also simultaneously happy to return to civilisation (“civilisation” in this context meaning in the presence of a functioning wi-fi connection), and thus I spent most of the day looking at my phone whilst my mother periodically got annoyed about me not listening to her.
Another day spent reading all the articles on the Guardian website, feeling annoyed and angry at the world as viewed through a small cracked screen. Another day spent wondering if I should be constantly at Piglet’s side, guiding him, teaching him, even though he was at my side, and for the most part playing quite happily with his toys.
That is the world we live in, and it will continue to be so for some time to come. We all need our space, and from time to time, my space is in that small cracked screen.
And I’m sure Piglet doesn’t mind. He’ll probably have his own before too long.
*This has nothing to do with Brexit. I am not putting my hat into the ring with that one. It’s all already been said, the tears have already been shed. Apparently this is another new ludicrous word hybrid, meaning to text whilst breastfeeding.