Ministry of Prose: making words work for your business

One in a semi-regular series of ponderings, musings and contemplations on the interaction of words and psychology in business.

Living without a smartphone and social media in 2019

April 2019

It's been a year since my last post on here, but in the meantime I haven't stopped writing. I'm still combining tech/business journalism with content provision for corporate clients, mostly business-to-business. I ran out of steam with my science fiction writing last year due to life getting in the way, but Missing Planet was only on hold, not abandoned. I've returned to it now I feel I have more inspiration, as there's no point in attempting creative writing without that driving force.

One thing that's remained strong over the past year is my antipathy towards certain aspects of technology. Despite having programmed my first computer in 1980 and made my living through a combination of words and IT, the latter increasingly leaves me cold. That's not due to the technology itself - which is often fascinating and incredibly capable - but because of the detrimental effect it has on individuals and society in general.

This is hardly a novel observation and there's growing public awareness of just how bad some technology can be for humans, but it was clear to me ten years ago and my attitude has only hardened since.

In 2019 I still have no smartphone, instead relying on a basic Nokia dumbphone from 2006. It's not something I make a fuss about, but when people notice me using it, the reaction is increasingly one of jealousy rather than derision. Those who are old enough to remember adult life before smartphones tend to wistfully recount the freedom they used to feel, before reassuring me that they "don't use [their] smartphone much at all, really." Just like addicts.

I still have that freedom and I know its worth. No doubt I'm missing out on some wonderful apps, yet somehow my life remains full and fun, with significantly less stress than my always-connected friends and peers.

A lack of smartphone doesn't necessarily preclude social media, but in my case it does. I've never had a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or similar account and never will. I know I won't live forever and I'm not prepared to waste my time in such ways. It's theoretically possible to use social media wisely, but one of the first psychological effects of using social media is to convince you that you're using it wisely. I'm not quite arrogant enough to think I'd be immune to that influence. I'd rather take my first ever shot of heroin than sign up to Facebook or the rest, and the side effects would be less damaging.

Living in Germany means I'm less unique in this attitude than I would be in the UK or some other first-world countries. Trust in technology is less freely given here, and there's no shortage of people who remember a time, only 30 years ago, when the collection of data about members of the public had sinister undertones and motives. For many here, it still does. I can see their point.

Alex Cruickshank has been a professional writer since 1994 and has real friends.

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