So I'm sat on a train on the way to Bristol on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon. I'm on my own and I've got my music playing as the Devon hills roll past. I should be fairly content right? Except I keep losing 3G/4G on my phone.
I'm aware that this is a relatively minor 1st world problem and It's a big ask to expect 4G with nothing but fields around me. I also don't need to do anything particular on my phone, I don't need it for work and I only scrolled through Facebook and Instagram a few minutes ago at the last station but for some reason it frustrates not being connected.
Perhaps it's because it reminds me that the £600 device I have decided to keep no more than a metre away from me at all times of the day and night is almost worthless without signal. And that it's basically a glorified walkie-talkie. Like without internet almost all my apps don't work and I can't talk to people I usually would, not that I have anything to say.
I think it's the same reason that when the change the design of money it reminds us that it's just paper with drawings on and has no real value. This reminds me that I paid a lot of money for a 5.3 inch piece of glass.
It's not like it escaped my notice that I expect Internet to be ubiquitous and that, because it mostly is ubiquitous, the functionality of my phone relies on it. And on the whole that's a great thing. Taking the Internet, which is in my opinion the single greatest thing humans have ever constructed, as a given in most situations to improve the experience of using my tiny piece of glass. And I wouldn't trade it for a satellite phone or something but still.
When I was younger I had a stuffed animal called Bunny (I think he's still in a drawer somewhere). Bunny came everywhere with me and I think in my more adult life my phone has replaced him. There's been studies that said our anxiety goes up if we are separated from our devices and that's definitely true for me. There's also the fear of missing out, like what if something major is going on and I have to wait until I get to Bristol to hear about it and I'm behind the rest of the world.
All this being said having no signal can also be freeing. I put my phone down and looked out the window. The rolling hills and fields seems a treat even though they are always there if I bothered to pay attention.
There was a design project from a company called BERG that printed a kind of tour on your train ticket with landmarks to look out for and when they would appear on your journey. (Link to the video). I love this idea almost because it's non-digital but also because it's such a beautifully simple way to interact with the immediate world around us. It opens up a novel experience that people would miss because we're all staring at screens.
Now again, I love my phone but there's no reason that some of that can't be transferred to mobile. When we talk about mobile user experience we often mean how to we interact with our phones but there is this device that we have on us all the time. And when we say interact with the world we mean it in a broader context as opposed to what we can see and hear directly around us.
About 2 weeks ago I got Pokemon Go and it strikes me as an game that has got fairly close tho bridging this gap with the immediate world around us. And allowing people to explore and see things in a new light. And I hope more apps incorporate this aspect. It's also surprisingly social. Like I've had strangers come up to me and chat about the game like we're in some sort of exclusive club or God knows how many players. (I'd look it up but ya know... Signal)