Liberator! Part 6

As he sat on the train a few days later, perusing the reports he had to digest ahead of the meeting he was travelling to, Tim glanced around at his fellow passengers. Engaged in conversation on mobile phones, tapping out text messages, watching DVDs on laptops and portable players, or otherwise cut off from the rest of the world by their iPods, Tim realised something he already knew but had never felt so aware of before: that everyone was so wrapped up in their own technological bubbles that all sense of community, or free interaction, had been lost. In subscribing to this conformist culture, Tim was engaged in active complicity in the reproduction of the circumstances of his own alienation. He hadn’t signed into Facebook for a while now, and while it was impossible not to check his emails – even a few hours off-line instilled an uneasiness in his stomach and caused his tension levels to increase – he was managing to resist the urge to respond to everything straight away, to click the links on every forward, even to read them all. But the nagging knowledge that there were missives demanding his attention remained in the background, and the flagged and unopened emails mounting up were impossible to forget about completely. He was appreciating the time and freedom to soak in his surroundings a little and to observe from a slightly different perspective but he didn’t exactly feel liberated either: far from it, in fact.

Just then, he noticed it. Sticking out from between a couple of reports, he saw a yellowy-coloured piece of paper. Its corner was slightly dogged. He lifted the report to see what it was. The pamphlet again. How had it go in with that pile of papers? he wondered. Concluding he must have put it down and then picked it up by accident when moving other stuff around, he paused to re-read some of it as he went to move it out of the way, then read on just a little.

For all of the above, allow yourself to reply to any incoming messages, and continue work-related activity as normal (failure to do so may prove damaging to your career). These directions apply only to non-essential outgoing social contact (Obviously, if you’re in the middle of a breakdown, then it’s reasonable to apply these instructions to all contacts as a blanket rule).

You may permit yourself three individuals who are exempt. These must be people who you know will respond to your emails or text messages or will answer or return your calls, and within a reasonable timescale. Two days to respond to a text, or a week to respond to an email is not acceptable. These technologies are all about instant communications, remember! Everyone else in your contacts lists, address book, are off limits. Do NOT contact them. Wait for them to contact you.

***

Tim needed to clear his head. Perhaps he did need to wholly liberate himself as the pamphlet suggested. As he passed the houses, he was able to see the outlines of figures moving inside, moving silhouettes, people’s actions projected like life-size shadow-puppetry. Some had not closed their curtains, or had just opened them, suggesting that dawn was just around the corner and they were making ready for work or whatever. As he wandered past these little compartmentalised lives visible through real-life television screens, he was able to look into their living rooms and bedrooms. He felt nothing, a complete detachment. It didn’t feel wrong. He didn’t feel nosey. He didn’t feel as though he was in any way spying into their homes or voyeuristically peeping into their private lives. Separated by the glass and the distance and the still, dead air, cold and silent, it was like watching television on mute. His presence went unnoticed as they played out their parts. He was simply a viewer, not participating or interacting in any way. Was this liberation?

 

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Liberator! Part 5

Tim rose at 6:30am and was at his laptop, set up on the rarely-used dining table, working, by 6:45. Still in his dressing gown, with a strong coffee, he sat blearily in front of the screen. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again.

It was after 11pm when he finally called it a night. He felt exhausted, yet his mind would not cease in its cogitations. Around midnight, after a large glass of wine, Tim retired to the bedroom and snuggled up beside his recumbent partner. He closed his eyes but behind his eyelids images flickered like a cut-up reel of cine film. He turned over and over as his mind turned his list of tasks for the next few days over and over. His heart rate began to increase, until it almost reached the point of fibrillation and sweat was running in rivers from every pore. It was no use. Tim simply could not sleep. Gingerly, he slipped from under the duvet and stealthily made his way back downstairs. Amy continued to sleep soundly.

Arriving in the living room, Tim did not turn on any lights and instead made his way silently to the window and stood behind the crack in the curtains. The street outside was dark and silent, yet unexpectedly bright, illuminated by the bright orange sodium haze of the street lights, one of which was in front of the house directly opposite. The curtains of the house were open, and there was a light in the upstairs window. He watched as a figure entered and exited the room. In shadow, he was unable to observe their features. It felt strange to be alone in darkness and at this time of night: Tim usually remained in bed, lying stock still so as not to disturb Amy, while him mind raced. Here and now, alone in the darkness and silence, with only the breathing of the house for company, his mind wandered. He projected himself outside into the long, anonymous, rectilinear street lined with almost identical red-brick terraced houses. He traversed the street like a ghost. His mind played in a flash a world in foment, in tumult, as rabid dogs and vigilantes prowled the alleyways. His heart raced with a heady blend of fear and excitement, the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Tim retreated into the darkness and brought himself back to the reality of the here and now, his interior world. Pouring himself a shot of rum, he spotted the rather dubious pamphlet he had pickled up the other day lying on the coffee table. He didn’t recall placing it there, but nevertheless, he switched on the standard lamp and read as he sipped at his drink and waited for its soporific effects to take hold.

A recent survey found that people working from home work the equivalent of an extra 20 days a year, which almost counters their holiday entitlement. The technology that has facilitated what would first appear to be the perfect working solution and the best way to obtain a more comfortable work/life balance is thus a double-edged sword. Small wonder people don’t all want to rush home and check their inbox.

Be honest: how many times have you been gripped by fear at the prospect of logging in and checking your email, because of the idea of dealing with hassling correspondence from the bank and a slew of messages from people you can’t face replying to is simply too much? Email and mobile communications technology was hailed as a great means of keeping people in touch with one another. But how many proper emails do you send or receive?

Tim shook his head. He hated to acknowledge the fact, but this tract resonated with him. The way he spent – and wasted – hours trying to keep in contact with old friends and former colleagues, even more peripheral family members. He had the niggling feeling that life was too short to expend time and energy on people who couldn’t be bothered, but then, all too often he failed to respond to messages and emails from his friends. He felt like a cunt for doing so, but what could he do? He was busy – busy chasing his tail as he raced like a hamster on a wheel on the treadmill of life.

Tim was exhausted, but read on, slowly. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance.

To reclaim your life and liberate yourself from the tyranny of technology, and at the same time, take the following simple steps.

1: Do not log into Facebook for a week.

2: Stop sending emails, especially forwards and links.

3: Do not send any text messages.

4: Do not make any non-essential phone calls.

It seemed a bit extreme. On the other hand, Tim reflected for a moment just how much time he spent checking into Facebook and reading endless reams of status updates that were ultimately pointless. He didn’t need to know that Neil was tired after going to the gym, or how sick Jonathan had been after his brother’s stag night. More to the point, he simply didn’t have the time to become mired in the vapid empty existences of others. He had his own empty, vapid yet insufferably hectic life to live. What could he possibly learn from a pamphlet that he hadn’t already read and discarded from countless self-help manuals, forums and television programmes?

 

 

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Liberator! Part 3

Tim had been in a conference call for over half an hour and was dying for boredom. Sitting back and exhaling, long and slow, he took the opportunity to check what his contacts were doing on Facebook and respond to some of the myriad text messages that had been flooding his inbox during the morning. There were two more invitations to go for drinks that he would have to decline having already agreed to meet Steve and Andy for a couple of pints after work before heading over to Dan’s for their weekly poker night. It would be his turn to host it in another couple of weeks.

His mobile began to vibrate, just as it was his turn to speak in the conference call. He let it go to voicemail. On his way out of the office to pick up a sandwich by way of a late lunch, Tim checked his messages. The first was from Amy. ‘I’ve not had time to do any shopping for food today,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Jane had a crisis so I had to go for lunch with her… long story. Anyway, I’m out this evening. I’d completely forgotten it’s Sammy’s birthday meal tonight, so you’ll have to call in and pick up a takeaway or something on your way home.’

***

Before he knew it, it was on Sunday afternoon, and while checking his pockets for receipts to submit along with his expenses claim form Tim rediscovered the leaflet he had picked up at lunchtime on Wednesday. It had been another uneventful weekend at home with Amy. He’d not swap Amy for the world, but things had been growing a little stale of late: maybe to swap for just one night… No, no, it was wrong. He pushed these thoughts from his mind. Amy had spent the majority of the time asleep or otherwise lounging around in front of the TV, reading a magazine, in her worn towelling dressing gown and nightie, without makeup and her hair unbrushed. Tim felt that he should have been able to appreciate the fact she felt sufficiently relaxed and comfortable, but instead felt like a cunt for resenting her for what he perceived as slovenliness and a complete lack of effort on her part. It wasn’t as though the long lie-ins were spent getting it on. He read the first coupe of paragraphs, and found himself agreeing with the points made.

Technology was supposed to give us more leisure time, but it seems to be having the opposite result. There can be no question that there are more labour-saving devices in existence now than ever before. Things like washing, washing up even eating, take next to no time in comparison to in times past. You’ve never had it so good! And distance is no object. With the advent of the Internet, it’s as easy to keep in touch with someone on the other side of the globe as it is someone who lives on the next street. You don’t have to leave the house for either, and in both cases it’s instant. In short, communication has never been easier. Or faster. It’s instant. But this immediacy has exacerbated the demand everything, and demand it yesterday, culture of impatience. And there’s the rub. Communication is too easy. Talk is cheap. Quality is falling by the wayside: quantity rules. And there’s no escape. People arrive at work and are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails awaiting them.

Just then, his mobile phone rang. The song he’d once been really into and so selected as his ring-tone was now simply another sound, another source of irritation and stress, its stunted, compressed take on the original supplanting appreciation with anxiety, its trebly bastardization becoming just one more trigger in his infinite nexus of triggers. Without thinking, he allowed his reflexes to dictate and he responded in a flash.

‘Tim James.’

‘Tim, Peter.’ Peter Flashman was his manager. Tim felt his stomach sag from the inside, whole at the same time his flesh prickled with resentment a the intrusion. Yes, he was on a good salary, but he felt increasingly that his life was not his own, that he was the property of the company and constantly at their beck and call. Did the end justify the means? Was he being pad enough to cover not simply his official working hours, but his every hour outside the workplace too? ‘look, you know I hate to call on a weekend, an so late, but….’

Before he knew it, Tim had agreed to take on three additional projects, produce another report by Wednesday and meet with some new clients in a week’s time, which involved cancelling the three days of holiday he had booked to visit his sister who had recently given birth. He felt bad: not only had he not met his new nephew yet, but, he realised with no small shame, he hadn’t seen or even contacted his sister in almost three months. But what could he do?

 

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Liberator! Part 1

Are you stressed? Tired? Struggling to manage your time?

The questions on the front of the A5 page – technically a sheet of A4 folded horizontally down the centre of its landscape format to create four sides of A5 – seemed to be speaking to him. Standing in the self-help section in WH Smith, Tim hesitated. He wasn’t in the habit of frequenting this aisle, and had only found himself there on account of taking a detour to avoid a woman with a large pushchair and another child, a toddler, hanging off the hem of her jumper, as he made his way toward the stationery department. A self-professed realist, he didn’t believe in fate or chance or coincidence. Nevertheless, it struck him as strange that this pamphlet should be there, quite incongruously, yet somehow most appropriately. Yellow/cream in colour, with plain serif lettering in black ink, contained within a two-line rectangular border on the front, it was unusually eye-catching in contrast to all of the sharp, bright photographic images of Paul McKenna and other self-satisfied-looking self-help gurus, and the pastel shades of the other books that promised to reveal the secrets of relaxation, happy relationships, success in all aspects of life and eternal youth and well-being. Most eye-caching of all was the legend in the very centre of the page, in block capitals and a full forty-six points high: ‘LIBERATE YOURSELF!’ it read. It seemed as though it were be shouting, the words reverberating within the cavity of his skull. Then, at the bottom of the page, appeared the line ‘…and discover who your real friends are’.

Tim didn’t have any time for this airy-fairy mind and body spiritual claptrap, but something about this leaflet, perched in front of the official glossy publications impelled him to pick it up. What was it doing there? Who had left it there? It looked too carefully placed to have been accidental. But why would anyone leave such a publication lying around in a shop? What could they possibly hope to achieve in doing so?

As much as he was a realist and a rationalist, Tim was a capitalist, and his solipsistic world-view ensured that he could not conceive that others would operate beyond the parameters of the social norms within which his existence was framed. Even a philanthropist needs the means by which to sustain themselves, and even charities require funding to cover operational costs. Nothing in life is free, and to that end, the motivation behind the document in his hand, that he had picked up and was now eyeing suspiciously, perplexed him. And yet he could not bring himself to dismiss it out of hand, or to simply ignore it, leave it where it was in the store, and go on his way.

He was stressed and tired and struggling to manage his time. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. Turning the leaf, he read the first few lines of the text printed in 11 point Times New Roman across the two centre pages. The questions on the front cover were repeated, this time in bold, followed by the promise that ‘This pamphlet will explain how, in a few simple steps, you can reclaim your life for YOU!’ Tim couldn’t help but be sceptical, but read on anyway:

Consider the following questions: How much time do you get for leisure? ‘You’ time? Time for socialising? Ok, so you probably have responsibilities – job, family, general living, specifically cooking, eating, washing, etc., etc. – and how much time away from these do you get? Yes, leisure time. That’s time to do as you please, things you enjoy doing. Time spent participating in activities that aren’t a chore.

‘Excuse me, young man’, a decrepit old bid said, prodding his arm with a bony finger.
With a start, Tim turned to her. ‘Yes?’

He sounded more aggressive and irritable than intended. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help it, he knew he sounded ‘off.’ The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why.

‘I’d just like to…’ the wizened old goat’s voice quavers and tapers off points down the aisle with the pallid unguiculate hand she had been poking him with.

‘Oh, right. Yeah.’ Tim flushed slightly. ‘Sorry.’ He felt like a twat. He stepped aside and waited for the crone to creak past before folding the pamphlet in half and tucking it into the pocket of his pure wool charcoal grey suit jacket.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk