I didn’t have a phone for a long time. No Facebook account; not even email. I was a luddite, but a peculiar breed because, according to my date of manufacture, I’m supposed to be a digital native. Perhaps it’s because by the age of 20, I was up the duff in the Welsh countryside with baby brain, no signal and no wifi. I had no need for MySpace and such.
When I finally fell into the digital realm, I fell hard. Unlike my peers for whom social media and mobile technology were vines that had grown and flowered around them, for me it was a sudden immersion, as if I’d been dropped from the sky into the jungle. I got Facebook, Twitter and Gmail accounts at the same time that I got an iPhone 4, so as my world dramatically augmented it simultaneously shrank to the size of a Ryvita.
Giddy in the tumble-blur of LCD colours, my pleasure centre would light up like a pinball machine at a well-received tweet. I would check my phone; five minutes later I’d check my phone again. If someone somewhere wanted to pick a fight with me, or was going to tell a lie and try to drag my reality into their miserable worldview, I couldn’t let it go, no matter how blatantly [expletive] the troll I was secretly addicted as the anxiety carousel wheeled unwieldily. I couldn’t focus, not even on a single app on my phone before I was drawn to another, “distracted from distraction by distraction”.
It wasn’t just Twitter and emails I was monitoring with obsessive regularity: It was the weather, in places where I wasn’t; it was my menstrual cycle app; it was the ticket site SongKick. And when all that was exhausted: scroll, scroll, scroll. It started to affect my relationships with friends and family, especially as the colours of our politics became our only interactions.
It’s a cliche
Wherever I went I got bloody lost. Wandering cluelessly around London, only to miss appointments, became a frequent pastime. I know it’s a cliche, but what did we do before Google Maps?! I was useless. My fella on the other end of the phone became my personal 118 and Siri. The change was worth it, though. It’ll sound like an overstatement but I think it changed my life. My choices are broader and healthier because I’m not being screamed at all day.
I bought a new phone last week: The Samsung something-or-other. Like a tiny Cardi B in my pocket, it pings and krrrrrs. I had been scared of the rate of progress, crying: “Stop the train! Stop the madness.” But I want to be part of building the future, and to do that you’ve got to swim in the contemporary waters. Rejecting the modern world doesn’t help anyone. It slows you down and I need to be efficient. The futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose Ted talks are essential listening, says: “Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference.”
Time will tell whether I’ve mastered the wisdom or adulthood, but if I become “the phone-checker” I know that I’ve got a crappy block of pink plastic in a drawer that can always bring me back to the real world.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2019
Charlotte Church is a Welsh singer-songwriter, actress and television presenter.