A man swore at me the other day on the street. I was walking home and I was stuck in a particularly tense moment of Plants vs Zombies and he muttered “FUCKing stupid” as he walked past, a real emphasis on the FUCK and almost none on the ‘ing’. I can only assume this was in reference to my almost real panic at being absorbed in pretend zombies on my phone.
We can assume. But look. Before we get too far into unpacking this, I should clarify there might be some other reasons he would throw that FUCKing at me:
- I was carrying a handbag and backpack because I like to bring in a book and that’s about my only excuse for having an extraordinary amount of bags
- My shoes were making little air puff squeak noises as I walked because I have worn them out and am too stingy to buy more
- I was wearing a lot of colours, I mean, a lot, like a very large toddler crossed with a stylish clown.
So who can tell, really. Something about me bothered him. We’ll assume the phone, because maybe I should have mentioned the fact that we also very nearly collided, which is definitely 50% both our faults, but whatever. Maybe even more his fault, because he didn’t have ZOMBIES to contend with.
My phone is always in my hand for my walking commute, and this is completely societally unacceptable. Most other forms of commuting it’s ok. If you take a train or bus or tram it’s fine to spend the entire thing on your phone. Read articles, watch Netflix, play games, do what you want. Those train people have it so LUCKY! It’s just the walkers who are frowned at. Oh, and cyclists. And fine, I suppose drivers, too, if we’re splitting hairs.
But I walk two hours a day. An hour to work, an hour home. Two hours is a long time to just WALK without doing other things. I get bored.
People judge me when I tell them I’m on my phone for this walk, like I should get in touch with nature or something. Look, just because I walk to work doesn’t mean that I’m some sort of hippy-dippy tree appreciator. Trees are fine. Very pretty. Don’t need to clasp my hands and sigh at their majestic trunks on the daily. I choose walking because I’m easily irritated by strangers in my personal space, I like to win the Fitbit challenge, and it saves me about $7 a day that I can then justify spending on pointless bullshit.
However. Recently I updated my iOS and it gave me this new shiny SCREEN TIME STATISTICS screen. Suddenly it was telling me just how long I was spending on Gardenscapes (I rue the day that Alex said “download this cute game” and I said “ok”, if only I could invent a time machine and never move to Australia in the first place to avoid this very real addiction).
Gardenscapes, and Messenger, and Instagram and Twitter and all this stuff that was giving me an eye twitch and putting me in actual physical danger and really probably not improving my life. I say “real physical danger”, but to be fair I have only walked into a pole once, it was recently, and I messaged friends to tell them IMMEDIATELY after doing it, to claim ownership of my humiliation. But still. I endured a minor bruise! Time to make a change.
I decided I would try walking home with my phone stored firmly in my bag. I’d queue up some podcasts (I’m not a monster) but no screen for the whole walk. I kept a notebook handy to take notes. The first note said “great children’s book idea – what if I were a duck for a day?”.
Ok, sure, and then what happens?
They can’t all be winners.
I know myself well enough to know how quickly I jump on board a bandwagon. So I was unsurprised to feel a familiar wave of smugness wash over me as I strutted down the street without my phone. I’d been without a screen for less than five minutes and I was already judging people, scoffing internally, thinking they were missing out on so much LIFE and OPPORTUNITY by being buried in their screens. They weren’t enlightened like me, I thought, my hands clenching and unclenching out of confusion at what was happening to them.
But it wasn’t all physical withdrawal. Concentrating on my walk opened up new possibilities. I could plod across grass or uneven surfaces, now that my eyes were focused on where my feet were going, instead of keeping a vague eye on my periphery while keeping on the straight and narrow. At one point I reached a sign saying the footpath was closed, which I flagrantly disregarded. I was forging my own damn path! Living the dream! BEING the future! (Also all the construction men had all gone home already).
I noticed things I hadn’t before. Trees in full blossom, window displays, murals. I fought the urge to get my phone out to take a photo of the things I only saw because I didn’t have my phone; as I felt this was sort of cheating and maybe would also lead to a glitch in the Matrix.
By the time I got home I felt like I’d achieved a wonderful victory. My mind was clear, my breathing steady, no bruises incurred.
But would I do this every day?
The trees on my phone need me.