I reluctantly left a portion of my belongings in storage with friends when I left Sweden and moved here to Seattle. Earlier this year I flew over to Stockholm on Icelandair and transported 100lbs (46kg) worth of household goods back to the United States in the cargo hold of a commercial airliner.
I gave myself a week to reminisce and rediscover the city that changed my life positively enough for me to replace it in my heart as my true hometown, and in the process I realized something; Stockholmers are wholeheartedly addicted to their mobile devices.
Since my global prepaid phone was unavailable, I traveled without a mobile device of my own, which would become a slight issue within my first hour on the ground.
One of my close friends offered me an air mattress on her floor, and we planned to meet at a specific entrance to the subway platform at T-Centralen, but I arrived a bit earlier than I expected to.
In the old days I would have sent her an SMS to let her know I had arrived, but it wouldn’t be that simple now. I found some spare change and deposited it into a nearby payphone, but when I dialed her number I heard a recording I couldn’t understand (in Swedish–obviously). So at a loss I took out my Eee PC, searched for a Wi-Fi point, paid for access, logged into Skype, and sent her a message that way.
I immediately started to miss having a mobile phone with me… However a few nights later I changed my mind.
Imagine eight friends sitting around a large wooden table at a boisterous and crowded pub. Everyone has a beer in one hand, and a mobile device in the other hand. If they aren’t actually holding their phone, then it’s resting at a highly visible location on the table, within easy reach. Throughout the next hour conversation is at a minimum because everyone is so immersed in SMS’ing, Tweeting, or Facebooking, that they forget there are seven other people present. Occasionally people question each other about recent Tweets or Facebook status updates, and meanwhile the standard, “Hey, where r u?”, and “What’s up?”, SMS messages are sent to friends and co-workers.
I ask to use someone’s iPhone for a few minutes, and then because I felt technologically left out (and bored), I went home early.
During my twenty months in Stockholm I must have overlooked or accepted the fact that this is considered completely normal social behavior there. Once upon a time I too sent SMS messages in the middle of dinner, and updated my Facebook status on the tunnelbana (as an avoidance technique to avoid eye contact with strangers). I even filed my taxes by sending an SMS message to Skatteverket!
I really hope the people who met me back then didn’t get the impression that I found their company uninteresting because I was so involved with my mobile social life.
I’ve converted to the belief that mobile devices should never make an appearance on the dining room table, and today I’m trying to rediscover everyday life without a phone constantly beeping, ringing, and vibrating in my pocket. My phone is usually on silent after normal working hours, I rarely send SMS messages, and I no longer have mobile web service. I’d have completely rid myself of a phone, but my family still needs to reach me, and it’s uncontentiously useful in case of emergencies.
While some people need to be completely wired and ‘in’ the loop, I’m content to be mostly ‘out’ of it today. I don’t fly around the world to catch up with people only to watch them fiddle with their phones, because there’s a reason we have the ability to speak and converse together without pressing buttons on a keypad. I wish more people would discover their voice again.
I’d like to know… are you ‘in’ with most of Stockholm, or are you ‘out’ like me? Tweet to me @KimberlyInSEA