Rory Sutherland

Old habits make sense

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‘Develop your eccentricities while you are young,’ said David Ogilvy. ‘That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going gaga.’

I am 46. And I am happily beginning to discover that a lot of habits I once thought ‘geriatric’ are in fact common sense. I haven’t yet started wearing beige or buying shoes that close with Velcro, but I’m tempted. And last week I gave in to one urge and went around the house compulsively labelling things.

I haven’t reached the point where my remote controls and radios have little torn shreds of sticky paper attached to them with hand-drawn arrows labelling buttons ‘video’, ‘Radio 4’ and ‘off’. But I have started labelling all our bloody chargers. As a family, we travel with about 14 of these, in different sizes, and they were beginning to drive me insane. They are all (Apple devices aside) indistinguishably coloured black, making them invisible in the depths of a bag. The function of each is only discernible by either peering at tiny writing or by trial and error. So I labelled all our chargers with big capital letters using a label-maker (Amazon, £20) — the modern, digital version of what used to be Dymo Tape. I should have done it years ago.

Another oldie decision I made recently was to buy a proper corded telephone. If you share your home with children — or anyone under the age of 30 — conventional phones have become essential again. Why? Because the wretched generation which has grown up since the invention of the mobile has never grasped the idea that a phone actually belongs in a specific place. When they finish a call, the young do not return a cordless phone to its base, as we do, unthinkingly: they simply leave it lying around at random, typically down the back of a sofa. Every time the telephone rings, you have to hunt around wondering where the muffled noise is coming from. Hence the need for the traditional, immobile phone.

I have also cut back on emailing photos and started sending postcards again ‘because you can’t beat paper and ink’. In this case, though, I am cheating slightly. The new type of postcard is produced by a nifty mobile-phone app called Touchnote (www.touchnote.com). This allows you to take a picture with your mobile — or choose an existing picture — then add a few words and an address before pressing ‘send’. For £1.49 (free until September) your picture is printed as a postcard, along with your message, then automatically posted. Since the cards are printed in the UK and sent by first-class post, they will reach the recipient in 48 hours from anywhere in the world. A good combination of new technology with old.

My last concession to advancing old age? Obsessing about the weather. Here again technology lends a hand. There are good mobile phone apps which give precise, hour-by-hour forecasts for your precise location, though they seem only to be reliable for the following 24 hours or so. But particularly useful is a nifty app called Rain Alarm. This does one simple thing very well. It monitors your location, compares it against the live aerial radar data plotting precipitation, and duly warns you with a little thunderclap noise every time there’s an imminent risk of rain.

I learned about this from a taxi driver. They love it, since they make more money in the wet, so it tells them when to head to town. For the rest of us, it reminds us to take the cushions off our garden furniture and lock them in the shed beneath our collection of individually labelled jars of nails and screws, arranged in ascending order of size.