The moment I set foot in Biarritz Airport, I sensed something was wrong. Just an impression, a hint of anxiety… and then it hit me. Hard. I had left my Blackberry in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
“Oh darling,” I said, turning to my wife, “guess what!”
“I forgot my Blackberry!”
She looked at me, stunned, ashen.
“Oh, you poor thing! How could you have forgotten…?”
“It doesn’t matter now. Why don’t you rush to the car, go get it, and bring it back to me before I board?”
“Well, because boarding starts in 15 minutes and it’s a god 60-kilometre round trip…”
“You don’t want to give it a try?”
“No, not really.”
Then she left and suddenly I felt terribly lonely. So I boarded without my BB and felt utterly lost when I saw all my co-passengers switching off their electronic devices before take off and then again an hour later before landing. The woman beside me eyed me suspiciously. Who did I think I was, not switching mine off and putting the whole flight at risk?
Had I been Keith Richards, I’d have booked a private jet immediately to fly the thing back to me in Paris. But as I’m no Keith Richards, I had to face a brutal reality: I was going to experience at least three days BB-free: utterly devoid of a means to consult my Outlook every five minutes; to check the GPS to make sure I was really where I thought I was; to delete the 576 spams offering to enlarge all sorts of appendages and pushing all sorts of pills or travel to all sorts of places to attend all sorts of conferences; and to instantly react to all the SMS and tweets that ensure I am in the appropriate time-space dimension… Isn’t that what loss of identity is all about?
But I survived.
I could connect with the people with whom I had to connect. I used old-fashioned devices like a landline phone. I was able to write a few emails from my computer without being assaulted by unexpected vibrations in my inside pocket. But the most amazing impression of all was that of entering a space-time I had known many years before: a context in which time is not a hectic dotted line, where space is a place you can breathe, where people have faces (although most of the ones I bumped into hardly noticed me, as theirs were looking down over their little screens), in which a body has thumbs that can relax…
Although we are frequently advised to switch off our smart phones and laptop computers, and to experience life again—calm, uninterrupted conversations with people we love, the fruitful loneliness of thought— we rarely do. Those three days made me appreciate and better understand what Nicholas Carr brilliantly explains in his latest book, The Shallows: the information overload has all the characteristics of psychological addiction. The brain’s response to information saturation is pleasure, as with any other drug. And, as with drugs, the damage is enormous. Memorization capacities are directly affected. We just tend to experience the surface of life. Who knows where it will lead…? A book worth reading.
But yes, three days later, I got the precious black thing back by express mail and could get back to normal life.
The Good Vibration (Beach Boys, 1966) was back in my pocket.