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Flight Mode for People

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Photo by Jason Toevs

Last week, quite miraculously, I took myself to a writing retreat in Devon. I didn’t really see much of the countryside, though. I mostly sat in my room and wrote, which was sort of the point. But I turned off the notifications on my phone and ignored all the emails, messages, tweets, and posts.

At first, it was nearly impossible. I’d stop mid-sentence and go for the phone every five or six minutes. But because I made a decision, I stopped myself. By the end of the second day, the frequency of the “oh no, I’m missing something important” thought decreased to once an hour. It was so lovely to be able to sit for a whole hour with a magazine or with my characters and not worry about the school calling, or my mom calling, or a critical email that cannot wait and is a matter of life and death every five minutes.

Of course, I managed to hold this for precisely an hour after getting off the train back in London. And I’m quite proud of that hour; it was tough. But this was last Wednesday, ages ago. By now, I’m back to checking that I haven’t missed anything every two minutes or so. And I don’t like it.

In the context of the pandemic, yes, in lockdown, we had to stay home and slow down. But, for me, at least, the dependency on being connected every single minute of the day had increased. Maybe it was an actual increase because I was home all the time and didn’t have the excuse of “no reception on the tube”. Perhaps I just notice it more now. I don’t know.

When international travel came back, and we went to Israel, I thought about flight mode. Flight mode isn’t just for the phone. It’s not just about not being connected for two or ten hours. It’s about not needing to do anything because you’re stuck in a metal chair in the sky, so you might as well watch a stupid movie or play a silly game.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been turning off notifications and putting my phone in the drawer while I write. Just for a few hours, I’m utterly unavailable to the world. It has been incredible for my creativity if nothing else. And the more I do that, the more I want to turn this modern life off. Don’t get me wrong; I have no romantic ideas about living in a shed in the forest. From my experience of living in the desert, it just means you need to drive an hour to get anything remotely unconventional, and there’s no theatre. But every now and again, I want to turn off my phone and the wi-fi and just hang out.

I just hope the school doesn’t call.


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