• Caught with my tech down

    (Photo by Patrick Kool)

    For my friends and I – being English – the most exciting thing about Malmö, Sweden is the kallbadhus – a bathhouse on stilts over the sea where it’s against the law not to be nude.

    The idea that a public space is frequented in the buff – as per regulations – by ordinary Swedes without a ‘by your leave’ is the stuff of English fantasy and scandal. And yet, it’s not the biggest deal about the place. 

    No phone to preserve my modesty

    Having become a regular to the kallbadhus over the past year, I have long since got over the initial transgressive thrill of being nude in public. I’ve quickly become at ease with the murmured chat of portly businessmen on their hour off. 

    What I have come to savour is not so much the nudity (which is nice), but the calm. Aside from nudity, another sauna rule at the kallbadhus is minimal noise. It is a place of quiet reflection. 

    It is also a place of intense heat and moist bodies. It’s not easy to take a locker key in without it burning you, let alone an iPhone. Which is perhaps one reason why no one does. The kallbadhus is not only a clothes-free zone, but a tech-free zone. 

    An island of gazing faces

    This makes the kallbadhus something truly unique in today’s world: a public space in which no technology intrudes. Even my beloved English pub is now a place of smartphones and TVs. But not here. 

    At the kallbadhus, a large group of strangers congregate to sit, side-by-side, in relative silence and stare out of the windows at the rocks, the sea and the sky. There’s nothing else to do. 

    When the event of the last half an hour is the seagull that passed the window, or the oil tanker making its steady progress across the screen of the horizon line, the mind feels something a bit like what childhood was to me – a time before the internet. 

    The kallbadhus is a little accident. An anachronism. It’s not a techlash. I don’t think anyone planned it. But by chance, it is the place where I can go to be in another place, where only your thoughts roam, and boredom lurks quietly. 

    While we’re on the subject of how great saunas are, Being Nude Isn’t Rude

  • Are you a smartphone addict?

    The perfect smartphone burial pit

    Our household is having the zeitgeist conversation of the moment: how to manage smartphone addiction. 

    Then I got a lesson as if sent from heaven. My phone simply went missing. Was it a sign? Turns out it was, in a way. 

    iPhone found in pit

    I don’t know why I even looked, but as I took away the carefully constructed pile of planks and sticks that cover my son’s excavation hole in the garden, under the final layer I struck treasure – the back of my iPhone case nestled in the soil. 

    The frenzied search had lasted some time. I pieced together my movements like a detective at a crime scene. Finally I remembered. I had been standing in the garden while my son was playing…

    …browsing the BBC News app. Was it more important to know about the Australian elections than what my own son was doing in our back garden? Apparently. 

    His response had been to take it when my back was turned and bury it. 

    Smartphone containment

    No one seriously entertains the idea that mere mortals can ‘do an Ed Sheeran’ and simply get rid of it. We don’t have an army of Personal Assistants, armed with their own smartphones, to manage our lives for us. 

    But for all the necessity, most of our smartphone use is utterly luxurious – none of it has to happen, probably not for as long as it does, and we all know the apps are designed to keep us thumbing and scrolling. 

    You’re all caught up!

    Yes, I know. Apps like Instagram have fallen on their sword and started to tell us when we’ve literally seen every image in our feed once already and can probably switch it off. But it sure feels good to know it’s all done. I’m up to date!

    The next challenge for tech is to see if it can find a place in actually freeing us to live our lives alongside it. TV always had trouble with that – but TV couldn’t move with us, which limited its power. 

    Our pocket rockets have to find a long-term way of making us feel better. If they ultimately get in the way of real life, they’ll just be switched off.

    Or buried.

    Turns out kids can even teach us about words (shouldn’t that be the other way around?). Read my blog Lost and Found Words