Call me strange, but long train journeys are one of my favourite things. I love idly staring out of the window at the ever-changing landscape: thinking; dreaming; contemplating; mulling; musing, even. However, the BBC has kindly pointed out what a dull, uncool, boring waste of time this is.
In the corporation’s latest advert for iPlayer, we see a train full of people, but none of them are looking out of the window. No, they are all hidden behind their various phones, laptops and tablets, so they can catch up with their favourite BBC programmes. According to the advert, journeys without access to iPlayer are “boring”.
Ah yes, the boredom of looking at the outside world. The unremitting tedium of seeing where you have been, getting a sense of where you are, and discovering the place where you are going. When crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct, who would want to waste a moment glancing up from their phone, when they could be glued to the latest episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys?
The word that came to my mind when I saw the iPlayer ad wasn’t “boring”, it was “tragic”. Don’t forget, this advert is saying that the ideal scenario, the most interesting option of all, is to ignore everything around you – people, situations, scenery, beauty, life – and bury yourself in a screen. As if people who do little else except watch television aren’t boring.
I couldn’t dislike this advert more if it had Jonathan Ross in it. It celebrates separation and isolation; it scorns individuals who want to engage with the world. Talking to fellow passengers (even making eye-contact with them), having some independent (perhaps even creative) thoughts, taking some time to relax and reflect – all condemned as “boring”.
However useful it may be, a screen will always create a barrier between its user and reality. A recent study by American scientists has shown that when people take lots of photographs of an event, it impairs their actual memories of it. After the moment has passed, yes, they have the photos, but that’s all they have. When people stay behind the camera, watch everything through the lens and fail to fully immerse themselves in what’s happening, they effectively miss out on the experience itself. Ironic isn’t it? The process of photography actually distances us from the thing we’re trying to remember.
Australian satirical website The Shovel hit the nail right on the head when it ran a (fictional, but oh, so believable) story about a man who accidentally went to a concert without his phone, so he was forced to watch the entire show “with his eyes”. This was a shock to him because: “Everything seemed really large and vivid. It was almost as if I was actually there.”
But no worries: “He rushed home after the concert to watch a low-grade recording of it on YouTube. ‘At least I feel like I’ve got my money’s worth now,’ he said.”
I often find that I’m the only person watching a real-time event “with my eyes”. Everybody else seems to be viewing it through phones, cameras or tablets. They’re all trying to get the best shot. I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as possible, because I know it won’t come around again. I can watch recordings of it over and over, until the cows come home, but never again will it feel like it did when it was actually happening.
A train journey might not be as exciting or as memorable as seeing your idol in concert, but it is still a little piece of your life and, as such, it deserves some acknowledgement.
Please, put down your screen and emerge into the real world. Take a look around you and focus on where you are. OK, chances are that all you’ll see is a load of other human beings, noses buried in Kindles, smartphones and BBC iPlayer, utterly oblivious to you and everything around them, but never mind, you can’t win ’em all.
What matters is that you have just broken away from the herd.
Now, feel free to have some unique thoughts of your own.
Wonder, ponder, meditate.
Dare to reflect on subjects unknown to the BBC schedules. People might think you’re strange, but they can never call you boring.