Can you really account for each and every minute of your day without saying most of them have been spent on some form of internet platform?
Like living in the real world wasn’t difficult enough, we have now created a complex and time-consuming virtual world for us to inhabit.
And it is eating our lives, never truly leaving us free to do things without its influence.
And that is what exhibition called 24/7 presented at Somerset house aims to show i.e. the mortifying state of hyper-connected modern society.
Calling it “A wake up call for our non-stop world”, the curator of this exhibition, Sarah Cook explains how it is like a mirror reflecting images of our always-on culture.
Kosmatopoulos’s “Fifteen pairs of Mouths” is actually a display of hands in different texting positions. It aims to show how our mode of conversation has shifted from the verbal words spoken from “mouths” to the hands that say it all—with texts.
Whereas Elahi’s digital collage, capturing and recording each and every moment of his life is inspired by his fear of always providing proof for his whereabouts when he was mistakenly put on no-fly list after events of 9/11.
Also, on display are the letters Nastja Sade Ronkko wrote when she pledged living and working without the internet for 6 months. Her letters give an interesting insight to how she developed her life living offline.
Inspired by the exhibit (and a little scared by my own internet habits) I decided to break up with my smartphone and ghost internet for a weekend.
I decided to completely restrict internet connection on my phone and hid all the apps I have other than the essentials that come in the phone.
And carry on with my daily activities with a basic use-only-for-calling-and-camera kind of phone.
And boy oh boy it changed my whole outlook towards the way to live life.
My travel perils
This Saturday I had plans to meet a friend at a restaurant in Covent Garden for lunch. Now that is a place I know pretty well, so reaching there without consulting google maps for route guidance was pretty easy.
But arriving on time was another story. Without internet, what I didn’t know and couldn’t check were the tube delays. And I got 15 minutes late from the planned time.
To be honest it wasn’t that world-ending-fires-everywhere kind of a big deal, but it very well could have felt just that on the days when I’m working.
And my sweet friend was pretty understanding too, of the experiment I was running and didn’t mind waiting once I told her about it.
My way back was much better experience though. Usually when I have to go somewhere, I map my way before-hand.
That is the current way of life, going point to point and saving time to do bigger things.
But today I couldn’t map my way back, so I simply took a walk around the place with no destination in mind and felt that rush I always feel in my head for reaching a place disappear.
And as I was walking and wandering in the streets looking at stores and café’s and people around me, just appreciating visually their presence in this same moment as me in this same place.
And I saw a side of this city I never before could appreciate because I never gave myself the time to pause look around while I was traveling all across this magnificently beautiful and artsy city.
Keeping in touch with my people
Personally, it was my family and best friends who had to make a big compromise while I was running this experiment.
For I had no internet so that meant I couldn’t check their Instagram pages or Facebook posts or Snapchat story or WhatsApp messages to keep up with their lives and/or reach to them instantly.
So, I had to resort to calling them when I felt like talking to them. But that didn’t always work as most have a very different schedule to mine and were unavailable.
Or they simply stuck in situations where they got back to me over text but I wasn’t available there so an understanding could only be made when both of us got time to talk.
It was troublesome in the beginning, irritating even, not being able to reach people. But it made me realise that none of us are really as available all the time as hyper-connectivity of internet presents us to be.
And with this, I could finally accept that the time I put aside for whatever I’m doing at the moment is my time. And removing all those tiny ever-present distractions led to me being able to focus on the things I have going in my life.
Not comparing with someone who is holiday-ing in France or getting promoted at work or is partying with friends or is with family enjoying home or even doing their self-care routine.
Because I was never online to see any of their shares to even know about it in the first place.
Although I did hate not being able to video call my bae. Seeing his goofy face is one of my daily highlights, and since we are doing a long-distance relationship right now, WhatsApp videocall is our only way to stay in touch.
Change in pass-time activities
We all have those moments where we are traveling in a cab or tube or waiting at a doctor’s appointment or stuck in a coffee shop line where we know what we are doing but there is an awkward wait to reach to the “doing the thing” stage.
And Instagram is my 24/7 force of habit pass-time I use to escape these boring bits of reality. And checking emails, and even online news apps/ websites.
Not having internet was refreshing because I couldn’t bury myself in my phone like I normally would. I wasn’t refreshing and checking my email every two minutes trying to “keep up” with the ton of spams I keep getting along the few absolutely crucial ones.
And also, I wasn’t getting myself sucked into the infinity pool of endless unrelated stories of the world also called news on my phone (or YouTube, what works for news also works for entertainment in this case).
Instead I picked up a print-copy newspaper on my way to supermarket and immersed my psyche into the news that was local and directly affected life of people in my area.
Not that world ending global crisis kind of news I consume most of the time, always leaving me with an impending sense of doom and anxiety.
Sometimes I just closed my eyes and rested them. Taking a moment to simple pause and do nothing instead of giving into the feeling of “I must always be productive” hence “I must always look like I’m doing something”. And it was so damn relaxing!
Oh, and I saved so much of my phone’s battery life.
Re-learning the goal of shopping
I love shopping. There is no second thought to that. And with online shopping I can do it anywhere anytime of the day. And there is not even any counting of how many hours I’ve spent browsing stuff online. So much time and so much money spent on so many things I liked only for a minute and then moved on to the next thing.
But with no internet I just couldn’t do this. No giving in to the whims of the heart and ordering every little thing that I liked. Instead I made my way over to Westfield with an actual pen-and-paper written list of things I needed and bought mostly the things on the list.
And definitely not in multiple quantities because as you know, unlike online shopping and its absolute comfort of home delivery, I still had to lug the loot I shopped from the mall back to home.
Making time for shopping felt great, going to the store, feeling the products, getting to take home the products instantly after buying felt more real and rewarding.
Such is never a level of satisfaction attained with online shopping, where in that moment you’ve even spent loads of money and still left with nothing to celebrate and hence to feel that thrill of shopping you do it all over again.
But I still do like researching the market and figuring out the best deals online because doing that left me wasting so much time when at the mall, and the next day when I logged on internet again, I saw I could’ve bought it on sale had I just checked the offers online before buying.
What I learned…
There are always two sides to a coin. But as long as the coin is made with keeping the weight on both sides balanced it will not become biased.
Similarly, internet too has its pro’s and con’s. But when consumed in moderation and with mindfulness it is a wonderful tool that makes our lives better.
And my tips to create this balance are pretty simple.
Of course during one’s daily commute to work or other time-sensitive commitments it is essential to track and utilise every minute of your time.
But from time-to-time it is also good for the soul to ditch the “mapped out” plan for every place and just let your gut and your surroundings guide you to exploring new places.
Secondly, your time is your time. Come out of this illusion these social media apps set that a “non-stop presence” is the only way to be present.
Set your boundaries. Tell your friends and family to give you a call instead you when they wish to be with you. Not drop a text when bored or every time a fleeting thought about you comes to their (or your) head.
This way you both know that this act of contact was deliberate and will cherish this time better, than it being spread distractedly across the day, inhibiting you both from focusing on your own lives properly.
But of course, this doesn’t mean cutting social media out completely, texts are an amazing way to let others know of your thoughts as long as you stop expecting and feeling pressured for instant replies.
Keeping this as a secondary mode of contact for when you can’t reach you people and absolutely need to also.
And just don’t even trouble your mind with managing time on your phone for social media or emails or news. The only way to win here is to just not use your phones for this. Period.
For starters it puts a lot of pressure on your eyes trying to read on such a small screen all the time. Then having access to them is like putting candy out in open in front of a hungry child. Impossible to stop temptation.
So just dedicate the right device for their consumption so as to free yourself from burdening your willpower to control you. Allocate social media use and emails to your laptop and don’t check them on your phone.
And adapt to consuming your news from a proper non-infinity-pool source like print copy newspaper or radio news. Their benefit is that they don’t run all day, leaving you in control of your time.
And lastly, when dealing with online shopping, it’s always best to do your research online but always better to buy in store.
This way you maximise your feeling of “shopping” and awareness of what you have bought. And always close off your web-search tabs once you’re done with your research.
For when you pick up your device, your research should not serve as temptation for more things to buy.
Remember the goal and don’t let hyper-connectivity take over your life!
Words by: Meghna Agarwal
Exhibition images by: Meghna Agarwal
(Original clicks with permission to use here by the PR team at Somerset House)