My name is Sarah, and I have recently recorded a trilogy of stories for BBC Radio 4. The stories are all set when I was a teenager, growing up in suburban Australia in the late 80s and early 90s. One of the greatest joys of writing anything set in that era is that I 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 and wandering around the Internet. Last night I looked up tutorials on how to shabby chic furniture at 9pm, five hours later I was still awake and 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 whilst 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. It's 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 boxsets. 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, a great opportunity for two people to start talking. 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.
So 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 one hundred thousand 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 fifteen hours later. Goodbye meant not seeing each other for a long time.
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 shit, 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 to comment on. It was just for you and the other person present, and then the moment was gone. That's something I think that 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 the course at the moment.
I find those precious moments when I accidentally leave the house without my phone, or when the battery dies. 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?
The first episode of Sarah Kendall: Australian Trilogy airs on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 28th February at 11pm, adapted from her critically acclaimed Edinburgh Festival shows.
Sarah will also be performing her hour long version of her most recent show "Shaken" at the Soho Theatre from 10-14th March - tickets here