One of the greatest joys of writing anything set in the late '80s and early '90s is that you don't have to deal with technology. And please don't think this is going to be a rant about how amazing everything was before the Internet and associated technology. I miss out on valuable sleeping hours because I'm up late wandering around the Internet. Last night I looked up tutorials on how to 'shabby chic' furniture at 9pm and five hours later I was still awake watching Fred Astaire dance like a hippie at the 1970 Academy Awards. I don't even know how I got there, and I like that.
I also like 'Googling' my illnesses, I couldn't survive without Google Maps, Spotify is terrific, and FaceTime keeps me close to many loved ones around the world. I also find clips of people falling over very amusing, so there's that. But while I love the Internet in my real life, I loathe it when it comes to crafting a story.
A few weeks ago I watched the film 'Before Sunrise'. I'm sorry about this, but I'm now going to spend 400 words out of my 800-word allocation telling you the plot.
The film is set in the year it was made; 1995. It's a sweet movie about two young people who meet on a train and then spend one day and one night together in Vienna. The charming simplicity of the story would be impossible to set in the present day. Two people just talking.
Even the start of the movie feels highly unlikely. They meet on a train -- they're both reading. No headphones, no movies, no games. No iPhones, no texting or email or Twitter or... you get the picture. They're just reading their books and occasionally looking out the window when they both overhear a weird and amusing conversation in their train carriage. Dramatically, this is a great opportunity for two people to start talking, but it would never happen these days. I've been so engrossed in watching 'The Bridge' on train journeys that the person sitting next to me could be on fire and I wouldn't notice. Unless they were being noisy, or if some of the flames started to leap onto my belongings, in which case I might shoot them a look.
In the movie, these two charming young people start chatting, get along well, jump out at a train station and go for a wander. No Google Maps, no website that suggests a café with an average user rating of 4.5 stars -- they just walk aimlessly and find their own way through the city.
They rummage around an old record store. They even ask some locals if there's anything that they'd recommend going to see. They cannot check each other out on social media, nor do they take a single photo. Not one. Imagine being in a foreign city and not taking 100,000 pictures of your travel companion grinning over a pint of beer and pointing at their dinner, not putting that photo on social media, and not spending the rest of the night checking out the barrage of humorous replies.
They have sex, say goodbye, and agree to meet again in some other city, or something. I can't remember, I was kind of sleepy and it was slightly boring. There was no friending each other on Facebook, no emails, no changing their flights online so they could spend more time together, no Skyping when they arrive home 15 hours later. Goodbye meant not seeing each other for a long time.
That's something I think we've lost; the ability to give the moment that we're in our full and undivided attention.
The absence of technology made the film seem dated, and got me thinking about why I love writing my stories in a world that has completely disappeared.
Growing up in suburbia in the late 1980s, there was nothing to do. We didn't have devices that immediately alleviated that boredom. Time felt endless, and we filled it by talking sh*t, and doing stupid stuff to amuse each other. We were each other's entertainment. Moments were transient -- they weren't recorded or photographed for other people to witness or take part in or comment on. It was just for you and the other person present, and then the moment was gone.
That's something I think we've lost; the ability to give the moment that we're in our full and undivided attention. People are now doing mindfulness courses, trying to find a path back to simply existing inside a moment and then letting that moment go. It's ridiculous having to relearn that skill. And I know because I'm doing a mindfullness course at the moment.
I find those moments when I accidentally leave the house without my phone, or when the battery dies, really precious. That's when possibilities open up. You could have a conversation that leads to something quite remarkable. Or you could see someone fall over and humiliate themselves. What could be more rewarding than that?
Sarah Kendall will be performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in March 2017.
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