A.J. Walker


March 2024

From The Porcelain Throne

From the Porcelain Throne: An Experiment in Time Displacement

Ditching the phone… Maybe it can be seen as a bold decision in some ways. But is it really? I went to talk to a friend of mine, Philip Vine, who had told me a few weeks ago whilst down at the cricket club that he now left the house without his phone switched on. He would only turn it on to see if there were ay messages from his wife or if he needed to book an Uber. The very idea it gave me a cold sweat at the time. He lives out in the suburbs, works in an industrial estate, and comes into town to get away from it. But now he admits that he wasn’t really getting away from much at all, for he was constantly on his phone Twittering away, Facebooking, TikToking, WhatsApping, texting, scrolling away on news and sports sites, and generally being sent down rabbit hole after rabbit hole driven by FOMO and painful algorithms. He told me that if he woke up in the night needing a visit to the porcelain throne then he’d take his phone or tablet with him and scroll away and end up spending an age sat there when he should really have been in and out in a matter of minutes—he’d end up being there for half an hour, sometimes more.

It’s a norm now to see people walking down the street FaceTiming each other or scrolling and texting as they walk, cycle, or even drive (those are particularly stupid bastards). Philip said it is an addiction for people. I think we all see that, but unlike other addictions it seems generally acceptable. It’s a habit that gets out of hand—by literally never being out of the hand. He decided to take charge of things when, due to his excessively long bathroom visits, his wife—the lovely, and usually calm and considerate, Sheila (who I found makes a lovely host and a mean chocolate cake)—accused him of doing something other than doom scrolling in there. He managed to placate her in the end and it got him thinking: how exactly was he benefiting from all this time online? Hearing the news first via Twitter, or seeing what people had bought for dinner that night was really neither here nor there. He said that being accused of masturbating in the bathroom when all he was doing was picking emojis to use for reactions TikTok or Facebook posts was the last straw—one that he was immensely thankful for.

He wasn’t sure exactly how much time he used to spend online and didn’t feel like it would be helpful to look it up but he knew it was many hours a day and excessive to the point of being detrimental. After all, time spent “scrolling through shite’ (his words not mine—and I really hope he was being anything but literal) could be spent doing something useful or beneficial, like sleeping in the case of his nocturnal toilet visits, or reading a book, learning a language or taking up a hobby.

In fact Philip has taken up playing instruments and from a complete novice he now aims to record a few songs and play in his local pub. His sleep pattern has improved exponentially and he says that he doesn’t care what some friends—he never actually meets these days—had for dinner yesterday, or the ubiquitous memes and stupid questions that filled his various time lines—and filled his head to no good end.

He gave me a couple of tunes on a ukulele which in the main I thought sounded pretty good: his rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit was not my cup of tea though—not sure Kurt would appreciate the ukulele version—though I confess I’m not first in line at the paper to be the music editor. He says his next aim is to learn a language in the spare time he has manufactured for himself and that he greatly regrets the years he’s spent on his phone “doing nothing” and wonders what else he could have learnt, or got better at, or even if he’d simply be happier in himself if he’d invested this time in relaxing instead of suffering from the "This Ubiquitous Addiction".

As I travelled back from seeing Philip I sat on the train and surveyed the carriage and only one person was not scrolling through Social Media. I confess that it had been a wrench for me to put my phone down to look around—after I’d messaged my editor about the interview I’d found myself scrolling through nothing posts that sent me down mundane rabbit holes. The woman across from me was reading a paperback book and definitely looked the most content person on the train. I can’t remember what the book was but I told myself that I too would try and ditch the phone a little from now on. I suspect that it really is an addiction that I suffer from. Maybe I should go cold turkey and whilst I couldn’t learn an instrument on my daily commute (the other passengers would not appreciate it), I could read a book or listen to a book or a podcast, or listen to some new music. Yes, maybe I’ll get to hear the first tracks from Philip if he continues on his jaunt with the ukulele (preferably no Nirvana). Good luck to him. I think we really could all take a leaf out of his book. And if you’re currently reading this in the early morning—perhaps whilst sat on the toilet—I think you can definitely benefit too. Signing off and putting on my Out of Office now. Probably.