We recently came across the news that Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp uses our coverage maps in a rather interesting way. Rather than using them purely as they were intended, he and his wife use our maps to deliberately drive to places with no signal, as a way of getting some respite from the constantly connected world.
We always think it’s cool when people use our services in unexpected ways and the thought of using the map to deliberately find places without signal had already occurred to us – although hearing about someone actually doing it was definitely a surprise. It does, however, cause us to ask ourselves one pretty serious question: has it really come to this?
In between the concluding question mark of that previous paragraph and the introductory preposition of this self-referential sentence, my concentration was momentarily broken. I flipped over my facedown phone to reveal its obverse and, as expected, the screen was completely devoid of new information. Nothing had changed but the time display, and that was probably to be expected, the effective digital record of time’s passage isn’t dependent on my constant clock-watching. The odds of someone having texted me without my having noticed the vibrations were slim to none and yet I did it anyway – breaking the flow of my words, fragmenting my thoughts.
Of course the seemingly obvious answer is to switch off, or at least airplane-mode off. The problem with this, of course, is that it requires willpower and concentration. The same willpower and concentration required for me not to flip my phone over and allow my paragraphs to be curtailed by that distraction. When I choose to switch off I’m always aware of that choice, aware of the possibility of its reversal – and that awareness can be almost as distracting as actually checking my phone. In short, switching it off is really only a more complicated way of turning the phone face down.
So is driving into the wilderness the answer, if even only temporarily? It certainly seems the best way to separate non-availability and the continued exertion of willpower. Perhaps for London they should make it so some of the parks are cell-phone signal free (except for calls to emergency services of course). This would help ease the difficulties associated with simply making the ‘choice’ to turn your phone off. One of the things that people don’t seem to grasp when they advocate making that choice is to do with its deceptive singularity – a choice is described as one event when really it is a string of dependent events. Each time you choose to turn your phone off you have to keep remaking that choice until you turn it back on. By creating a circumstance where the choice really is one event (going to a signal free area) then turning off your phone could become as relaxing as it already should be.