It hadn’t really occurred to me to be honest, that technology is killing our ability to be spontaneous. In fact I was always thinking the exact opposite. That having so much information in the plan of my hand as allowing me to have more knowledge of what I could do if I wanted to be spontaneous. How finding ourselves with a free Saturday afternoon at home would lead me to picking up my phone and typing in “events in Hampshire today” and then picking something from the results. This would then be followed by a smug feeling of “Oooh look we have stumbled upon this cute farmer’s market that we would never have known about if we hadn’t Googled”.
But what about all the other events happening locally that hadn’t made it onto Google. What about the simple pleasures such as a walk in a nearby park to watch leaves falling off the trees, or sitting in a cafe with a mug of tea and the crossword? Our seeing those as a choice on the menu is eroded because they make it on to the menu, thanks to technology.
None of this had occurred to me until two things happened.
Last week I found myself with a couple of hours free in the west end of London and decided to go for a wander up to Fortnum and Mason. I had resisted the urge to meet up with people or to plan my three hours, deciding instead to mooch in a part of town I know well. To be honest I wanted to be on my own for a bit and didn’t really want to make conversation. I was wearing comfy shoes, wasn’t weighed down by a camera or other stuff and fancied just being out in London and being on my own so headed to the west end.
I was also on the hunt for a posh birthday cake for Ellie but it seems Fortnum’s don’t sell cake. Who knew? They are the Queen’s grocer for god sake. Does the Queen not enjoy a bit of cake? All manner of everything else (and I mean everything) but no cake unless you want Panettone and that, my friends, is not cake. Anyway, I then decided to go for a mooch on Regent’s street, only to find it closed for the big light switch on. I found myself in front of a big screen just as Jamie Theakston started counting down from ten. I was in a crowd of people who may well have travelled into London especially for this. Standing beside a group of Asian students in awe of what was going on. Snapping a million selfies of this famous London event. Yet there was me, with an hour to spare before dinner enjoying the same thing, something I didn’t even know about twenty minutes before.
Would I have gone if I had known it was happening? Probably not. I would probably have muttered something about it only being bloody November, why are lights being switched on in November. Or been nervous about big crowds and some unfounded terrorist threat.
Did I love it? You bet I did.
It reminded me that being spontaneous is always so rewarding and that I get real joy from just stumbling upon something I had no idea was happening. That I hadn’t been looking forward to it for months, hadn’t read about or developed any pre-conceived ideas. But I didn’t really think much more about that concept over the past week if I am honest, though I did think about sharing some pics. It has been a long and tough few days Chez Barrow and this all sort of went out of my head.
Until I read an article this morning about how social media, and technology generally, is hijacking our brains. I do urge you to go and have a read because it really is fascinating: How Technology is Hijacking your Mind. The way technology can manipulate the way we think with the choices we think they are giving us is scary. They actually aren’t choices, they are menus set by the platform that we don’t even realise we are reading, or actually manipulated by. So rather than searching for “where to buy cake in the west end” to then be guided by the results in my phone, I just went for a walk, found some gorgeous lights being switched on, and got a cake in Patisserie Valerie (sticks tongue out to Fortnum’s). The article puts it like this:
For example, imagine you’re out with friends on a Tuesday night and want to keep the conversation going. You open Yelp to find nearby recommendations and see a list of bars. The group turns into a huddle of faces staring down at their phones comparing bars. They scrutinize the photos of each, comparing cocktail drinks. Is this menu still relevant to the original desire of the group?
It’s not that bars aren’t a good choice, it’s that Yelp substituted the group’s original question (“where can we go to keep talking?”) with a different question (“what’s a bar with good photos of cocktails?”) all by shaping the menu.
Moreover, the group falls for the illusion that Yelp’s menu represents a complete set of choices for where to go. While looking down at their phones, they don’t see the park across the street with a band playing live music. They miss the pop-up gallery on the other side of the street serving crepes and coffee. Neither of those show up on Yelp’s menu.
Except in my case it was cake, not live music. And before I read that article I hadn’t really grasped that this was happening.