I’ll take a ‘real’ chat please

Old MacDonald had a farm was my first ever ringtone. I didn’t even want a phone but I was 14 years old and there was only so much letter writing my boyfriend could do. Plus, we had a school trip to London and texts would need to replace the letters. I would charge it once every two weeks and the only ‘app’ it had was bio-calendar. I would type in my date of birth and it would rate my love, health and luck for the day. I didn’t carry my phone in my school-bag and the only social media I used was MSN. I was most definitely guilty of writing my current boyfriend’s name surrounded by hearts as my tagline. Those were the days when phones were merely an object for quick conversation- where to meet and what time. I don’t think I even carried my phone around with me. It was too heavy and my friends laughed at it. They all had Nokia 3310′s and during lunchtime they would have Snake competitions. Maybe that’s where it all started?

All I know is that now we have a serious problem. All of us. Last November my phone broke and I cried hysterically. ‘Nomophobia’ would be too light a phrase. What the heck was wrong with me?! Since then I’ve taken a step back. The person I became during that breakdown appalled me. When did I become so attached to a form of technology? Me- the girl who grew up in a tiny village who spent most of her days adventuring in the fields and the forests. The girl who only got a smartphone in 2012 because her colleague said it would make her life SO much easier. And yet where do I find myself today? In a society where people prefer to chat on social media apps as opposed to having real life conversations, where at lunch when I try to speak to my colleagues I have to repeat myself 3 times because they are so busy scrolling through photos of their ‘friends’ updates about what they’re eating for lunch that they don’t even hear me.

I recently moved to Shenzhen so I’ve been trying to make friends. I attend these events where people ask you for your We Chat i.d. without even looking you in the eyes. They don’t know who I am, where I’m from and yet they’re asking for a way to communicate with me. How about we sit down and have a real chat, or does that make you uncomfortable?

The Lost Art of Little Things- IdeaXchange

Hi everyone. Before I begin, I’d like you ALL to turn off your cell phones, iPads and whatever other hi-tec devices you cool kids are using these days. It’s not because I’m afraid you’ll interrupt my speech if someone calls you, it’s because I want to do a small experiment. I want to see if for 15 whole minutes you can handle being disconnected. So, if everyone could just raise their phones in the air and show me that you’re turning them off…

If this idea scares you, you might want to think long and hard about why. It seems we’re so caught up in our digital devices that even when we are around other people we can’t seem to put them down. We are CONSTANTLY connected, and the consequence of this is that it’s affecting our face to face communication and forcing us to disconnect from our real life interactions.

For now, let’s see if you can just focus on that old skill we used to be so good at- that of listening. What happened to that sacred skill? Well, cell phones happened, that’s what. Perhaps you too are guilty of this, but how many times have you had to repeat yourself at a social dinner with friends because they’re all too busy uploading photos of their food to We Chat or their Weibo account or Instagram, to even hear what it is you asked. What has happened to the days where you meet a friend for a catch-up dinner that actually involves catching-up? Not just a quick hello, followed by a check-in on Facebook or Foursquare to let everyone know where it is you are and with whom, followed by a few selfie shots, followed by uploading the photo of your food to every social media platform, followed by constantly checking to see how many ‘likes’ you get on said food photo. Then, to top the dinner off perhaps you’ll take a few more pics of you and your friend which you will proceed to upload on the bus home.

And repeat.

Here’s what I’m suggesting…when you are in a social situation such as a lunch with colleagues, a family wedding, a date with your partner, in a classroom or the office- why not turn your phone to silent, or even better, just turn it OFF. Remember real-life conversations? Relationships that happened offline? Dates where you actually looked into your lover’s eyes and talked about everything and anything under the sun and where you didn’t need to tell the whole world on social media about it? Remember when your colleague told you about her trip to Japan…wait, no, you were playing on your phone.

It’s simple. In fact I challenge you to disconnect. It could be for just 1 hour or it could be for 1 whole day a week. Can you imagine the amount of stuff you could accomplish if you just disconnected for a bit. I’m talking about disconnecting so that you can reconnect. Connect in real life. Connect with the present moment, because guys- this is the only moment we have. Connect with your new colleague. He or she would probably really appreciate you taking the time to ask for more than just their we chat i.d. Make sure they’re settling in OK and ask them questions about their life. When they reply, really listen. Make eye contact. Show them that you actually care. Connect with nature. When you’re walking to the bus stop or the mrt station, look up at the sky instead of down at your phone. Did you notice the trees next to your apartment had begun to blossom? Or what about the lady you buy your fresh fruit from everyday? What’s her name? How was her day? Connect with her.

Some of you are probably wondering when this crazy girl is going to stop talking so that you can check your phones…well, you still have 10 minutes to go. Let’s see if you can do it! I guess for me, it all started last year when I was living in Hong Kong. One morning I woke up and my phone was broken. I immediately burst into tears. I emailed my boss and told him I was going to be late because my phone had broken and I didn’t know what to do. He understood and told me just to come in after lunch.

‘Nomophobia’

Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. The term, an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia”, was coined during a 2010 study by the UK Post Office who commissioned YouGov, a UK-based research organization to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users.

Yes, that actually exists and that was the day when I realised I was suffering from it. Looking back I’m shocked at the way I reacted. As if not being able to whatsapp my friends was the end of the world. It got me thinking long and hard about where this so-called phobia had stemmed from and how I could get rid of it. Well, that was the first step already taken. Acknowledgement. Slowly but surely, I started deleting apps. I got rid of Line, We Chat- although since moving back to China I’ve reinstalled We Chat because well… I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to be up here talking to you all today if I didn’t have it. But it’s all about balance, right? I still use social media but I try to limit the amount of time I spend on the various platforms. You see, I like real conversations. I love the natural to and fro of a real conversation where it’s OK to interrupt your friend mid-sentence because you both just have so much to say. I like writing letters. Remember those? Where you actually put time and effort into carefully crafting what it was you wanted to say. The happiness you’d feel when you knew your words were safe in the hands of your nearest and dearest, or if you were the receiver- the anticipation of waiting for its arrival and the moment where you can savour every sentence over and over again without having to instantly reply. You could take time to construct your words and enjoy the art of letter writing.

I still do this. Of course I send emails like everyone else too, but I love writing postcards and letters or putting together small packages for my friends and family. In fact, I even write letters to strangers. While living in Hong Kong I embarked on a personal project. From the 1st of December until Christmas I wrote one letter a day and left it in a different location around the city each day for a stranger to find. They were just short 1 page letters written in both Chinese and English and my goal was to make at least one person smile even if just for a second. I would write something very simple such as: Hello, how are you today? I hope you are having a lovely day! Isn’t this sunshine just amazing?! Who would believe that it’s December, it feels just like summer. I know you don’t know me and I don’t know you but I just wanted to say have a great day anyway! Love, Luna.

The project was called Luna’s Letters because my blog is called Luna Finula.

I haven’t started this project in Shenzhen yet but it’s something I would like to try soon. Perhaps it’s naive to think that strangers would even bother to pick up a little letter, but if even just one person finds one of my letters and gets something out of it- that’ll be enough. Actually, one person did reply. One evening I left my daily letter stuck to the wall outside a café in Tai Hang. During this project I would take a photo of my letter and, OK now I’m going to sound hypocritical…I would upload it to Instagram. On each letter I would write p.s if you find my letter, please let me know here #lunasletters. The café owner commented on my photo saying he found the letter and that it was very sweet of me and he hopes I keep the project up. I never did hear from anyone else but occasionally when I left my letters on buses or trams or even boats, I would wait and watch the finder read my letter. They would always smile and put it in their pockets. That made me really happy.

I specifically chose Hong Kong to experiment with this project in because I noticed that in such a fast-paced city people have forgotten to smile, to greet each other, to look up once in a while and notice the moving clouds, or to look around them at the daily lives led by their fellow city-goers. People were always in a rush and appeared to only be thinking about themselves and where they were going. It made me sad. When did we stop talking to each other? Where had our sense of community gone? Why are we not speaking to strangers?

Let me ask you something. Where is your neighbour from? Have you ever even seen them? Last week I started to wonder where my neighbours are. I’ve been living in my apartment for over 2 months now and apart from sounds I hear through the walls or the occasional door slam, there were no signs that actual humans were living around me. I come from a small village in Scotland where I grew up knowing every single family. If we ran out of sugar or salt, we’d ask the neighbours if we could borrow some. If you lost your keys it wasn’t a problem because your neighbour had your spare key safely stowed in their house.  So, a few days ago while I was writing this speech actually, I got in the lift and a young Chinese man started speaking to me in English. I found he had just moved into the apartment opposite mine and we had a brief, but nice conversation. The following day the same thing happened with a guy from Kazakstan who lives on the floor below me. He said “Oh, are you new here? I haven’t seen you before. Isn’t it strange how we have all these neighbours we don’t know?!” “YES, I cried, it is strange!” Finally! We really should make more of an effort to chat to people that we see every day. Whether it be our neighbours, the security guard at our apartment complexes, the cashier in Walmart or the cute-looking girl/guy sitting next to us on the bus. What if he or she is THE ONE? Be brave and at least say hi, otherwise you may always be thinking what if…! The same goes for if you like someone- instead of sending them We Chat messages day after day, just give them a call. Ask them out. Write them a love letter. In this chaotic technology-fuelled world it seems we’ve also forgotten how to date people.

You know, technology actually scares me. When I was home last winter I was hanging out with my friend and her two kids. It was a beautiful, crisp day and they were huddled up on the sofa playing on their new iPads. I looked out the window at their huge garden with swings and a slide and a climbing frame. On my walk home I noticed the empty parks, the swings gently blowing in the wind. No kids. No laughter. Well, it’s winter you say- it must be freezing. Yes, it was most definitely chilly, but there is such a thing as hats and scarves. Plus, the same thing was present last summer too. Where were all the kids? When I was growing up my Mum had to drag me indoors when it was time for bed because I was SO happy playing outside in the forests and fields. Nowadays all the kids are glued to their iPads, smart phones and laptops. It’s terrifying and I believe it’s our duty as the generation that just managed to experience childhood without the crazy influx of technology to remind these kids how awesome life can be when you disconnect. I miss seeing children climbing trees and falling in the mud, then getting straight back up again and running across the park to go play with their friends. Their friends…not some character inside a video game or an angry bird. Real friends.

I, too, know that technology has changed our world- and in some ways, definitely for the better, but it’s also turning us into anti-social beings who get more of a kick out of the beep notification from We Chat than from a sunrise, or a good book. My idea is that if we could just disconnect for a few hours a week or if you can- a few hrs a day, we could live a much more productive life, free from the procrastination that social media injects in us all. Try not to worry about big things such as making huge amounts of money, or climbing the career ladder to the very top, or buying a house and a fancy car. Stop panicking about the future and let go of the past. If you’re always looking ahead or looking back, when on earth will you have time to enjoy the present moment? Because the present moment is when the little things take place- a smile shared between strangers, a delicious cup of freshly-brewed tea, waking up to sunshine outside your window- these are the moments we should be cherishing. But in order to do so, it’s important that we disconnect from technology to fully connect with these little things. The next time you are having dinner with a friend- turn your phone off. Just try it. Savour every bite of your food, listen to everything your friend says and when they ask you something back- really listen to your response and watch your friend’s reaction. Be present. Disconnect from the cyber world and in return- have an amazing time in the REAL world! It’s the one that was here all along, so let’s give it the attention it deserves.

I believe my 15 minutes is now up. Instead of reaching into your pockets and turning your phones back on, how about keeping them off until you get home? We still have 3 more speakers today and I’m pretty sure they’d also really appreciate your 100% attention.

Thank you for really listening to my talk today.

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 Photo of me by Gamy Wong

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to give this speech at Shenzhen’s monthly IdeaXchange event which has now been running for 4 months. It’s a fantastic platform for people to share their ideas and passions and it’s very similar to TED. I attended the very first one in February and in my head I started thinking about what I could talk about if I ever had the chance to get up there on the stage. The guy running IdeaXchange asked me if I’d be interested in talking about my job- doing voices for China’s biggest Animation company. Even though I love my job and wouldn’t mind sharing some stories from the industry, it’s not something that gets my heart all fired up. It is what it is, whereas the topic I chose to talk about- that of disconnecting from technology in order to reconnect with all the amazing things in life- is something that truly makes my head explode with ideas and opinions.

I was extremely nervous before I took to the stage. There were around 750+ people in the audience and as I glanced around the auditorium I spotted my friends dotted around and their friendly faces put me at ease. I was up first (there were 5 speakers in total) and as soon as I started my speech I felt completely at ease. I stopped shaking and the sweat on my hands evaporated and it suddenly felt like the most natural thing in the world to be up there in front of all those people, sharing my ideas and thoughts and trying to inspire people to connect with the message I was trying to get across. I was so pleasantly surprised when everyone actually did turn their phones off and even laughed about it. I think they really did listen to me and before I knew it my 20 minutes was up and I had done it!! Looking back, it’s as if my voice was coming from somewhere else. Even though I’m an actor and being on stage should be the easiest thing in the world, I still get nervous, especially when I’m on stage just being myself. I didn’t forget my speech, I didn’t even sneakily look at my cue cards. I just followed my heart and I even improvised some new ideas based on the audience reactions and the new path that my thoughts were flowing in.

I got such a buzz from standing up there. I want to do it all over again! It was SO much fun! Afterwards I took my seat in the front row and a little girl came rollerblading up to me. She propped her chin on the table and she said “Hi, I loved your speech. Just so you know, I still play outside, don’t worry.” Her voice immediately sounded familiar, and so I asked her what her name was. Jenny. I knew it! In the year that I spent in Taiwan, this intelligent, inspiring little girl had done ‘little girl’ voices for the company I work for. Once again, a little reminder of how small and wonderful our world can be. There really are crazy connections around every single corner.

Later that same afternoon a young Chinese guy came up to me and showed me his phone. He had turned his 3G off and he said he wasn’t planning on turning it back on again today. He also told me he rarely spends time with technology. This made me so happy and I was flattered that people were actually coming up to me and sharing this with me. At dinner that evening everyone on my table was too scared to take their phones out of their bags. I laughed and told them it’s fine, just try to find a balance. Pretty soon, everyone was snapping photos of every dish and uploading them to We Chat, but again, I just laughed it off, left a comment in the group chat saying “remember to disconnect guys…” and left to go join my friends for some ice cream and more laughter.

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Image sourced from Shenzhen Daily where you can also read more about the event and the various speakers.

Strangers that are Neighbours

At 6.37pm, the older man who lives down the hall rides a yellow vespa, blasting ‘Hotel California’ from the plastic speaker attached to his handlebars, signalling his arrival home. The lady (or gent) with the pink car is nowhere to be seen. Who owns this burst of colour? Perhaps it’s the two gentlemen from the supermarket. When I bumped into them, their trolly contained only the good stuff- organic vegetables, tofu, a dozen eggs, patience and two friendly smiles. A refreshing sight in this country. But one mustn’t assume anything. Not that the boy who scratches and murmurs to himself at his desk opposite my desk on the other side of the wall is lonely after what sounded like a breakup with his girlfriend last Thursday, nor that there may be an escapee in the building due to the neighbour opposite my place having a stern-looking letter sticking out of the bottom of his door.

These are just my observations with made-up stories. Especially the one that the noisy guy upstairs may have just lost custody for his equally noisy baby. The pram’s gone, the never-ending tears all dried up. Where has everyone disappeared to? The South African with the bushy moustache looks unhappy, nonchalant. I think his wife works too much. In his eyes, it’s easy to glimpse his deepest worries. He wanders these streets with their unfamiliar tongues with one aim in mind: to learn the way, to lose the fear that lingers behind every blink.

And the ladies with their plastic tennis racquets dance on. Rain won’t stop them, a mysterious camel doesn’t faze them. They have a routine to master and they come every day at 7.29am to take their places. Scooters weave in and out, school children with their heads down attached to their phones wander on. The bridge above their heads drips in time with the old-fashioned music. Where are their husbands? Are they the gents buying the vegetables and tofu, served with a smile?

I don’t know these people and they don’t know me but I smile at them regardless. They are my neighbours and I don’t want them to be strangers.