Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: smartphones

Reinventing oneself

Some lessons I learnt after living for two months without a home and spending all my time on trains, planes, and friends’ houses (thanks!). A note for the random visitor: these are just scattered notes I write for myself, not a coherent post.

Communication

People seem to waste too much of their time communicating with digital devices. This is an old refrain, I know, but it is scary how people use their phones nowadays – and for what? I have been on trains where all the persons of a family of four never spoke to each other for the whole ride, because they were all incessantly looking at their devices. Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, emails, sms, Twitter, emails, Telegram: even me, I am inundated by applications to chat. I often think of a line of a certain Passenger’s song, we pretend to be friends on the internet when in real life we have nothing to say. As a reaction I have grown increasingly more inept at communicating with my phone. Forget long messages. Rather, I have elected four simple ways of communicating with you: (1) this blog; (2) a short sarcastic message, picture, or video to laugh about; (2) a handwritten letter, for those of you who really matter; (4) a flight/train ticket to come and see each other in person.

Smartphone apps, more generally

There was a moment of my trip when I was craving for a map of Berlin. Until that point I had been getting around anywhere just fine using googlemaps. Sure, the app was working well; but I realised it was my fourth time in Berlin and I still had no idea of how the city was structured and I could not even remember the name of the neighbourhood where I was staying. The way I use googlemaps is just to get to A to B and, as a consequence, I never memorise the information. I made a resolution for myself to start using old paper maps again – like these. It is not for a case that when I was still in Trento I had the ambitious project of creating one. (I failed, but not for lack of trying).

Being a guest

I received precious hospitality by Giallu, Martina, Pietro, Giulia, Jonas. I learnt to wake up in the sun, listen to classical music, treat wooden objects with respect, prepare a smoothie, separate clothes in the laundry machine. But – hei – I am just not made for being a long-term guest. I feel like I am invading someone else’s space. So this experience confirms that I am a bourgeois deep down in my bones. The word bourgeois, as you know, denotes a person that takes for granted the sanctity of property. This brings me to point 4 of my diary.

Stuff

Niels, who is going to live with me in Torino in a couple of days, says that he wants to have his belongs packed in one simple bag. A-ha: nonsense. Living in Florence for three years I have accumulated an incredible amount of stuff: books, clothes, games, bikes, paintings, a scooter, laptops, tables, all sorts of technology. This stuff -material stuff, really- reflects my personality; in some ways, it is even an extension of it. This is why I feel so strange knowing that it is now scattered around six different houses (err – and I take the opportunity to thank again my friends for their patience).

Home

Material stuff reflects my personality, sure. There is another reason, though, why it is so important to me: it also captures a particularly happy period of my life. So now when I take up Bruti I remember the late evenings playing it with Dani; when I take that one glass of whiskey I remember the night when I was with Thomas and he knew he got into law school; when I look at the little school bus I remember of my improvised journey all the way to Denmark with Iris; and so on: you got the gist. Now – of course you realise I have been bloody sentimental about leaving my home in Florence, but I think that is for a reason. At the moment I doubt I will ever find a place so welcoming, so radiant, so relaxed as that. But then, who knows? When I got there in 2013 I had just experienced Brussels with Mindo, a truly marvellous flatmate and friend. So I was convinced I could not find anything better than that. In fact, half an hour after my arrival in the house Ada and I were fighting -literally fighting- over the consequences of Spanish colonisation in South America, leaving short of words both Jonas, who had rented the cheapest room but was forcefully assigned the most expensive one upon his arrival ‘because you are the last one who arrived and since we have already put our luggages in the other room it be a bit of a hassle to move them now, no?‘; and Dani, who had been accepted in the house at the last minute just because the girl who had been favoured over him turned out to be pregnant. It ended up going swimmingly: they are my closest friends now. So let us be surprised again.

Some things you already know, but forget to think about

Yesterday evening I came home from the cinema and I realized I was not able to have a conversation with Dani because I was too hooked up by the messages and the updates on my phone. It was just as if I wasn’t there.

I have a relatively balanced relation with my phone, I believe. I check it sporadically, it is always on silent mode, and I never stare at it for more than a minute or so. And yet, there are moments I realize I am switching off the brain because of my phone. “As smoking gives us something to do with our hands when we aren’t using them, Time gives us something to do with our minds when we aren’t thinking,” Dwight Macdonald wrote in 1957. Smartphones have the same effect: they keep our hands busy and they make us mindless. This is also the beginning of the article I want to share with you in this post. You are all intelligent people, otherwise you would not be reading my blog*, and so you know already that compulsive use of your smartphones makes you anxious and incapable of experiencing empathy. So it is not that you need to read another article on  how excessive use of your smartphones degrades you life quality because you already know: it is bad. Yet, it is just good to be reminded of how bad it is. There are interesting data, too. Think of this: on average, people check their phones 221 times a day— once every 4.3 minutes. In a 2015 Pew survey, 50% of the teenagers interviewed said they used their phones to “avoid others around you.” Which is exactly what I do when I check the phone on the metro, on the queue, or while I wait for my date or my friends in front of a cinema, theatre, or whatever other circumstance you can think of.

The article reviews a book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, that starts with a psychological argument. The author of the book, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, finds the roots of the problem in the failure of young people absorbed in their devices to develop fully independent selves. Phones and texting disrupt the ability to separate from one’s parents, and raise all the kind of other obstacles to adulthood. The book, it seems to me by reading the article only and not the manuscript itself, celebrates the value of occasional solitude and makes all the kind of references to Thoreau – oh yes, baby, another recurring topic on my blog, that’s right.

At the same time, the article is also a useful reminder of how quickly our society has become hyper-connected. The first touchscreen-operated iPhones went on sale in June 2007 an today already, as the article says “not carrying a smartphone indicates eccentricity, social marginalization, or old age“. It still happens to me to be asked for the phone number of my mum by her colleagues. Their disbelief when I explain she does not have a phone is – how can I say –  palpable. They simply do not believe me. Maybe next time I can tell them it is an old, eccentric, marginalized mum I have. But that’s not true: I never told her in person, but because this blog is a way for me never to be separated from my mum (err), I can use it to tell her that one of the reasons why she’s cool is precisely she doesn’t have a smartphone.

Also – avoiding all this texting she will probably escape the three most extreme consequences of the digital hyper-connection the articles talks about. These are narcissism, disinhibition, and the failure to care about the feelings of others. Which is a funny coincidence, now that I think of it, because these are also the three most recurring definition of this blog coming from my inner circle of friends. Oh, wait a minute …

 

* these are the kind of bad jokes that used to piss Stefania off – big time. And I think it was so because she knows that down in the bottom of my heart I really believe this to be true.