Call Me Baby Are you emboldened to hit CALL instead of SEND? Do you more often swipe right to answer instead of left to reject? Have you learned to love again the sound of the human voice?

It’s been nice to spend a little time catching up with some of the new research supporting the thesis behind my (somewhat delayed) 2015 book You Are What You Don’t.

The thesis of the book is simple:

It’s pretty obvious that we are what we do. It’s less obvious, but no less formative, that we are also what we don’t.

Not only that, but what if what you don’t do is exactly what you should be doing?

Essentially, You Are What You Don’t sends me off on diverse adventures trying to not do the things that I normally do and trying to do the things that I unavoidably do in a manner completely opposite.

(It’s not a massive surprise that I so much enjoyed writing about paradoxes a couple of weeks ago.)

For example: it would, as we’ve all discovered in the years since, be crushingly dull to not leave the house every day — but there’s no reason that we have to walk.

So, for one day, back in 2015, I didn’t walk. I ran, I danced, I jumped, I skipped, I twisted my ankle, I crawled to A&E and I learned a lot. Particularly about crutches.

The point of the book is that we should learn to question our habits and at least try living without them: sometimes to discover an unexpected better life and sometimes just to return to normality, with gratitude.

One of the most instructive chapters of the book was called ‘No Mobile Phone’. This experiment was run in the halcyon days before I owned a smartphone, but I was no less addicted to those old school beeps and vibrations.

In the month before I ditched my Nokia — back in 2015, remember — I had sent 419 text messages. As I observed at the time:

that’s a ridiculous 13 per day, which makes me look like either a man in demand or a man desperate for attention. I have a horrible suspicion it’s not the former.

Fast forward seven years and I suspect I would be aghast at the number of messages I send on my smartphone in a month.

Actually, as a confirmed data-holic, I wouldn’t be aghast, I’d be fascinated. And then aghast.

Perhaps that’s why Android, Signal and Whatsapp make it either completely or virtually impossible to count the precise number of messages sent from your phone.

(Do you know how? Message me.)

Back in 2015, I wrote about the powerful effects of ‘social gravity’. I was concerned then with the pressure building on all citizens to buy a smartphone:

If we don’t go with the tilt, with the tendency for everyone to have smartphones, then we must be prepared to work ever harder against the steepening slant.

More than one of my freelancing friends finds that they need a smartphone in order to get emails on the go: if they don’t reply immediately to that job offer, then someone else will.

Today we can see the effects of social gravity in the way that we use our phones to communicate with each other.

In fact, to call this communicative tool a ‘phone’ is now almost a misnomer. ‘Phone’ is ancient Greek for ‘voice’ but today, compared to text messaging, we rarely use our ‘phones’ to transmit our voices.

According to a 2018 study, the average Whatsapp user sends or receives a total of 145 messages per day. That’s more than ten times my ‘ridiculous’ 13 text messages per day back in 2015.

In contrast, between 2012 and 2019, the total time that people in the UK spent on phone calls dropped by 15 percent, from about 10 minutes per person per day to 8 minutes (given that the population also increased slightly).*

As smartphone use has increased, so too has our use of ‘frictionless’ messaging apps like Whatsapp. The ensuing pressure of social gravity has squeezed out voice phone calls.

The question is: are we better off without voice communication or is this the worst thing ever?

It’ll come as no particular surprise that a 2020 study from the University of Texas at Austin found that voice communication, even without the visual cues of face-to-face contact or video, is integral to social bonding.

It follows that the researchers found that phone calls make us feel more bonded with others than text-based communication like email or messaging.

Voices make us feel good. Intuitively, we know this.

But that’s not why we make fewer phone calls today compared to 2012. We make fewer phone calls because phone conversations, even with friends, are faffy and awkward.

And that’s where the research gets more interesting.

Before the event, the 200 study participants expected that a phone call, whether with an old friend or a stranger, would make them feel more socially awkward than connecting by email or text.

But when asked how the call went afterwards, participants reported no extra awkwardness from the live, unscripted nature of the conversation.

In fact, the phone call was not only a more positive interaction than the text-based communication, but it was also no extra faff. The researchers found that a simple phone call took no longer than reading and responding to the same scenarios over email.

In conclusion: we overestimate how ‘convenient’ text communication is and we underestimate how good a proper voice call will make us feel.

~

* The kicker is that, after seven consecutive years of falling call minutes, 2020 saw a huge leap in our use of phones for voice communication. Lockdown helped us rediscover the dial tone.

Are you emboldened now to hit CALL instead of SEND? Do you find yourself more often swiping right to answer instead of left to reject? Have you learned to love again the sound of the human voice?

Please don’t bother answering by email — call me instead!

Look after the weirdos and delete everything

So apparently Facebook have had some bad press recently. What can I add to the debate, other than being smug about being 5 years ahead of the curve?

The way I describe quitting Facebook is that it’s as if a tiny little bit of your brain suddenly becomes available again. I didn’t realise that it was being taken up by Facebook 24 hours a day until I quit. If you haven’t already, and if only for that reason, quit.

If you’re worried about What Might Happen, take courage. After deleting my account, I didn’t get a single twinge of remorse. I didn’t miss a thing, although I do now have no social life (unrelated, I’m sure…) Continue reading Look after the weirdos and delete everything

Experiments in Publishing: Unbound Crowdfunding

In October last year, I started a very exciting experiment with crowdfunding publishers Unbound. We had a target of £10,648, and an initial funding period of 90 days. Sadly for me and the 100+ people who pledged money for my book You Are What You Don’t, earlier this week we acknowleged that, despite raising around £2,400, this experiment should be catalogued under FAILURE. Continue reading Experiments in Publishing: Unbound Crowdfunding

Christmas Bonanza: £5 off, Xmas cards & free books!

Happy Christmas and welcome to my Christmas bonanza!

As you know, I’m publishing my book You Are What You Don’t with Unbound, the publisher where YOU decide what gets written. We’re in the crowdfunding stage at the moment, trying to raise ~£10,000 so that this book can see the light of day. We’ve already raised 16% of the target, but there is a long way yet to go.

So, to nudge you all into pledging, I’m entering into the Christmas spirit and turning You Are What You Don’t into this season’s must have gift. (Well, it sure beats Tickle Me Elmo and a botox anyway.)

If you gift the book to your friends, family, binmen or newsagent, I will:

  1. Write them a handwritten, personalised Christmas card.
  2. Give them a highly sought after You Are What You Don’t badge.
  3. Give YOU £5 off your generous Christmas pledge.

Furthermore, if you pledge for a very special signed first edition hardback (only £30 with the discount), then I will also send you a signed copy of one of my already published books.

And, of course, in Spring 2017, your friend will receive a surprise parcel in the mail – their very own beautiful edition of You Are What You Don’t, with their name in the credits.

Read on for more details on what I think will be a lovely little Christmas present, but first…


How to Give

It’s super simple.

  1. Pledge, using the code xmas5 for a £5 discount (don’t use this if you want the full £5 to go towards the target!)
  2. Change the name in the back of the book to the name of the person you’re giving the book to.
  3. Send me an email through my website with the name and address to send the card, badge and book (either to you so you can present the person with it, or their address for a lovely Christmas surprise).

For the UK, the deadline is Thursday 17 of December to catch the post. Contact me ASAP for international orders. Any questions, likewise: contact me.


So, what’s included in this lovely little Christmas pledge?

A handwritten, personalised Christmas card message from The Author.

I will write your friend / family member / binman / newsagent a personalised Christmas card, including a little story of one of my positive constraints and a tiny challenge for them to try on Christmas Day.

The card will be designed by one of three artist friends, see these pictures for a taster:

Real Design Christmas cards (with boggly eyes and glitter)
Anna Hillman Christmas cards (Amazingness.com)

Your choice of You Are What You Don’t badge.

These badges went like hot cakes during our launch event a couple of weeks ago. All the cool kids in London are wearing them now!

Pretty You Are What You Don’t badges

Which one does your friend need?

  • You Are What You Don’t (in pink and yellow or blue and yellow)
  • No Borders (red and black, only one left!)
  • No Walking (purple and yellow)
  • No Clothes (red and black)
  • No Phone (red and black)
  • No Toilet Paper (blue and yellow)
  • No Money (pink and yellow)
  • No Planes (red and black)
  • No Facebook (red and black)

Remember to tell me in your email which badge you’d like. Otherwise, I’ll just pick a random one myself.

For you, £5 off your very generous Christmas pledge

Thank you for pledging! I know this is probably a great big leap into the darkness. I appreciate it, I really do.

£5 off makes the hardback edition only £15, and the special signed hardback edition, with personalised positive constraint challenge only £30. Postage and packing, I should warn you, is £4.

Go on and pledge using the code xmas5. You deserve it 😉

+ Free book for pledges over £30

If you pledge for the special signed hardback edition, then I’ll send you a free copy of one of my other books to give to your friend on Christmas Day. (Or keep for yourself!)

  • The Soles of My Shoes. The story of my hitch-hike from London to Ben Nevis and back, with pathetic love story and a hitch-hiking how to guide. 170 pages.
  • How to Cycle 4,000 Miles When You Hate Lycra. A short book that will inspire the hapless bicyclist to get off their ass and out on tour. 50 pages.
  • Elevate #10. A collection of essays on political ideas, including answers to many baffling questions including: What is “surveillance capitalism” and how can we cook it? Are artificial volcanoes going to stop global warming? 179 pages.

Be sure to mention this in your email – despite continuing experiments, I’m still not psychic. 🙁

Most excitingly, in Spring 2017, your friend will get a beautiful edition of You Are What You Don’t with their name printed in the back.

Worried about the wait? Don’t be – it’s a good thing! Did you know that we get more pleasure from the anticipation of a thing, than from the thing itself? Guinness were almost right: “Good things come to those who anticipate.”

++ UNEXPECTED SCROOGE BONUS

If the book isn’t funded (BLACKMAIL ALERT: it won’t be if you don’t buy a copy), then you get your money back – cheapest Christmas present ever! 🙂


How to Give

It’s still super simple.

  1. Pledge, using the code xmas5 for a £5 discount (don’t use this if you want the full £5 to go towards the target!)
  2. Change the name in the back of the book to the name of the person you’re giving the book to.
  3. Send me an email through my website with the name and address to send the card, badge and book (either to you so you can present the person with it, or their address for a lovely Christmas surprise).

For the UK, the deadline is Thursday 17 of December to catch the post. Contact me ASAP for international orders. Any questions, likewise: contact me.


Thanks everyone! This will happen with your support. Sorry if it all comes across as the hard sell, but I’m really excited about this book – it’s going to be well worth the wait, I promise. Every day, I hear of more and more people joining in and changing their lives in exciting and creative ways.

Onward!

d

You Are What You Don’t at Elevate Festival

I’m super busy working and writing at the Elevate Festival in Graz, Austria at the moment. But between catching thoughts, ideas and arguments in my butterfly net of words, I managed to find time for a conversation with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, which he kindly recorded and uploaded to Audioboom.

We talk about Calais and his recent trip there, as well as positive constraints and new publishing models – including You Are What You Don’t at Unbound.

You can listen to the conversation below and make sure you check out more audio from Documentally at the Elevate Festival – a dozen conversations with people even more fascinating than me! 😉

You Are What You Don’t: LAUNCH!

Just a swift note to say that my book on positive constraints has finally hit the crowdfunding shelves (hurrah!). Read more – and watch my scandalous No Clothes promo video – on the Unbound website. Or go right ahead and SUPPORT THIS BOOK!

You Are What You Don’t is an unconventional celebration of what happens when you turn your habits on their head. What if you tried to live with no aeroplanes, mobile phones, supermarkets, money, English or borders? Not appealing yet? Okay, what if I did?

This loving-crafted book is part (mis)adventure story and part philosophical / psychological / sociological investigation of why we do what we do – and what happens when we don’t.

To catch more of a literary whiff, read this free sample chapter on No Walking. Yes, I didn’t walk for a whole day – much more fun and educational than it sounds. Although it did end in comic tragedy. But enough.

What is Unbound?

Unbound are a publisher for the 21st century. You won’t believe this, but publishing used to consist entirely of bleached skeletons holding glasses of sherry stumping up millions of pounds to put out a book, written on dead organic matter by another sherry-toting skeleton, in the vain hope that someone in the Skeleton Sherry Review of Books would like it. Madness.

Unbound, on the other hand, lovingly proffer their books to the shooting zoo of the internet. In this digital Darwinian discotheque, if a book sounds like a good idea, then you and I will want to put up money to make it happen. Simple. Be my guest.

Miraculously, it works. Check them out – loads of fully funded books by intelligent humans. And Steven Gerrard. Only joking of course  – his header against AC Milan in 2005 alone surpassed the intelligence of a whole keyboard full of correctly employed semi-colons.

Anyway. I digress. Of course it works: it’s the internet, where YOU run the show.

This cunning crowdfunding business model means there is next to zero risk to the publisher – if a book doesn’t reach its funding target, then no one has lost anything (pledgers get their money back, no questions asked). And this means they can take on unproven or risky prospects (= me).

It also means that the book must prove it has at least 500 people willing to buy the thing, which avoids embarrassment and wasted time all round.

That win-win becomes a win-win-win when you factor in the fact that everyone who pledges for the book gets, not only a special hardback edition, but also their name in the credits. Never before has it been so easy to pretend you’re a medieval sherry-swilling skeleton.

So, go, do – pledge!

Without you, this won’t happen. The task is, frankly, daunting, but I believe in the book, I believe in the ideas behind the book and I believe in you, dear reader.

As a little fillip, Unbound say that if I can reach 30% in the first 30 days then we’re odds-on to reach our target. So it’d really be awesome if you could share this around and dig around the back of the sofa for a sneaky tenner or what have you.

THANKS!

ps: We’ll be throwing a wee party on the evening of the 19th of November, at the Horse and Stables pub in Waterloo, London. This will essentially consist of me talking + booze + free badges + live music + a man standing on his hands. So that’s loads of fun and you’re invited. Now go and watch that video. It’s gold.