We spend an enormous, and perhaps unhealthy, amount of time on our phone, looking down at a little – or in some cases big – shining square. Research has shown that the amount of time UK users spend on their phone is nearly 42 hours every month. Of this total amount, 90% of mobile engagement includes use of map and location apps. But with a plethora of these apps aimed at streamlining, informing and aiding our day-to-day lives, have mobile phones actually enabled us become more spontaneous?
I have recently had some first hand experience of just this. I hired a couple of Boris bikes with my girlfriend and just rode from point to point around London. We had no plans; just to spend some time in the city we know and love. It was a fantastic experience, not least due to the comfort of having freedom from the fear of getting lost.
For a long time I have been worried about getting lost: taking the wrong turn or worse ending up on Oxford Street during ‘The Sales’ seasons. My point is that it is very difficult to get lost anymore. Think about it, all of our phones have maps, route planners, taxi booking apps and loads more. My Dad and I argue on on a monthly basis about the virtues of using Googlemaps; he still relies on an A to Z for directions but I never have to worry about finding my way (unless my mobile battery runs out!)
OpenStreetMap is increasingly popular as the map of choice for those who want an alternative map. The app uses aerial imagery, GPS and a community of contributors to ensure the maps are up-to-date and locally focussed. This is an open source mapping solution with helpful local features and recognisable places that will get you back home without the perils of an out of date map. A map “by the people, for the people”.
So all of this got me thinking: how can I make this into an activity a little more exciting than simply trying to get lost, and more importantly, one my friends will want to partake in. So here is what you do: first, choose a starting point – it doesn’t matter where. Then, choose a direction and start walking, cycling, running or skating. You can keep going for as long as you want. But when you get bored, simply have a look around and see what’s around you. Check out a local coffee shop or bar, or even grab a sandwich and sit in the park. For finding things to do I have used the Street Art London App and London’s Best Coffee App for cafes and street art in London. (This was on a Sunday afternoon, there are others for drinking, clubbing, and museums.)
But the fun doesn’t have to stop when the day is coming to an end, why not find an alternative route home? Or maybe walk, instead of getting the tube? When the day is over, simply load up your generic smartphone, see where you are and select one of the many excellent apps that can help get you home. Hop on the New Routemaster, pedalo around the park, hire a bike, a skateboard, a rickshaw, or take a good old-fashioned stroll and find a new way home.
My take home point is this: my day of travelling around London “without any plans” was actually enabled and enhanced by my smartphone: the shining square that we stare at every day was safely in my pocket, but there as a beacon of usefulness when the time came to call it a day. So, download an app, head out on an adventure, and prove to your dad that you can still discover new places and experiences a dog-eared A to Z will never spontaneously reveal.