When I was a boy, phones sat on a dark, wooden table in the hall. They were tethered to the bricks and mortar by thick, plasticky cords; if you wished to use them, you were obliged to stand out in the hall to do so, with all the associated anxiety about your (fantastically trivial) secrets being overheard by responsible adults.
In these same halcyon days, modems existed only in hollywood movies – strange, rubbery sockets into which intrepid whizz-kids would plunge clunky bakelite telephone receivers, before conducting improbable feats of computer hacking on a 16k dial-up connection.
When I was a boy, London was very far away.
This morning, my phone was in my top pocket as I boarded an express train to the Capital. Inside my phone was the descendant of those rubbery modems from 80’s cinema: my whizzy new mobile broadband internet connection, the gateway to a world unimagined by Marty Bishop and his contemporaries. Between leaving my taxi and reaching the carriage, I had answered two emails, checked my Facebook account and sampled the zeitgeist through Twitter.
I was connected.
The events which have unfolded since have helped me to realize something very important: the ease with which I access information has distorted my perception of how difficult it is to achieve all the other things in life.
My epiphany began at around 5.30pm, when my return train to Edinburgh was summarily cancelled due to flooding in the north of England.
That’s fine, I thought. I’ll get the next one. After all, I’m a digital-age consumer – if something happens which doesn’t suit me, the world will bend over backward to provide me with other option, with a replacement, with an App for that. These are the expectations of a man who can buy a book from iTunes anywhere in the world, then read it on his phone 60 seconds later, or map any journey in an eyeblink: that things will just be sorted out.
As the featureless voice of the station announcer persisted, however, it became clear that the East Coast mainline did not work like a smartphone. There was no later service; there was no alternative route; nothing which rode the rails would be going north of Newcastle before tomorrow morning; I could go fuck myself; etc.
Ok, I thought, don’t panic. The travel bookers had an out-of-hours number which I could use to get a flight arranged; I would then hop onto the tube and be airborne later in the evening.
As the sympathetic voice of the travel booker relayed bad news about flight availability, I began to fully comprehend my predicament:
- It was not possible to take a train to Scotland: all tracks were closed.
- It was not possible to take a plane to Scotland: all the spare capacity had already been absorbed by other train travellers, who had realised earlier than I that the tracks were closed.
- It was not possible for me to pay for a hotel: on the last day before I was paid, I barely had enough to buy a coffee, never mind a room in London.
My digital-age consumer outlook could not help me now. I was disconnected.
This kind of experience shouldn’t have been so jarring for me. As a teenager, I had lived in a world where:
- One arranged to meet friends hours or days in advance, at an appointed place. If they didn’t show, one did not text them for an update – one rolled with the punches and traipsed off home.
- One didn’t leave the house without enough hard cash to get by – cashpoints were scarce and debit cards were but a twinkle in a banker’s eye.
- One didn’t phone anyone’s out-of-hours number – offices closed at 5pm on Friday and one could bloody well call them back on Monday.
Nonetheless, I was pretty thrown.
I’ll throw a spoiler out here for you: I’m not writing this post from the gutter, or from an increasingly cold floor at King’s Cross station. I did manage, thanks to my tenacious travel booker, to secure the last room in a Premier Inn nearby. But, thanks to a few hours of uncertainty, I find myself in possession of a new and interesting concept.
When a person believes one thing, but then experiences something which does not fit with that belief, they experience what’s known as cognitive dissonance: put simply, it throws them for a loop.
Today, I experienced what I’m calling…
Connective dissonance [kuh-nek-tiv dis-uh-nuhns]
- A discomfort that comes from subconsciously believing life should be as elegant and innately connected as an i-Pad, then being reminded that it’s not.
- The state of being a spoiled, smartphone worshipping twat who receives a wake up call.
…and I won’t forget it in a hurry.
I often reflect on all the things I could teach my teenage self, were I to have the opportunity. For today at least, I’m forced to admit that in dealing with the rollercoaster of the real world, there’s a fair bit he could probably teach me.