Wednesday 13 January 2010

in the pursuit for less mental space

I joined Twitter yesterday and am just starting to use it. I'm doing it because I work (well, as I pointed out in my first post, not at the moment) in the marketing field so I should really understand this kind of thing and also 'cos I'm curious, feel like I might be missing out on something and want to see what all the fuss is about. I'm well aware however that if I do want a simpler life joining Twitter probably isn't going to help me out.

A lot of technologies purport to simplify our lives "buy this machine - it will make your life easier! it will free up your time so you can do other, more valuable things!". But often the opposite happens; you end up spending more time doing whatever it was you wanted to get away from in the first place. I really experienced this with Sky +, the digital television recorder available here in Ireland and in the UK. The ads for this product really play the "technology makes your life simple, gives you control and lets you get on with the more important things in life" card. But since getting Sky + myself my TV viewing has shot up. I may be watching what I want when I want, but I'm watching a lot more of it than I did in the past. My life hasn't become simpler because I now have less time to do the same amount of stuff that I need to do (which in my case means less time for sleep). Of course I could just not watch all that pre-recorded TV, couldn't I?

The other thing that happens is that you end up doing other things, namely work, in order to pay for expensive new technology. I quite like the lyric from a Metric song (I can't remember the name) which goes "buy that car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for that car" - it's a nice distillation of the gerbil wheel many of us find ourselves on. But that's a big subject - it's a whole other topic for another day. If I ever find time between all my Twittering and TV viewing.

Anyway I can see Twitter is definitely going to take up a whole lot of my mental space. Especially when I figure out how to use it on my phone. I predict immediate addiction.

Will update,

Tuesday 12 January 2010

An oldie, but a goodie

You've probably seen this before. If you haven't, you must. If it's been a while, it's worth another watch. I think this is one of the most compelling pieces of persuasive communications I've seen in a long time. Also, the graphics are cute :)

How to raise goats in the countryside

It seems to me, there is a strange and somewhat contradictory trend about the place. It's been around a while (well, probably since the 1960s) but has picked up the kind of momentum in the past 2 years that has shifted it from the margins of society, into mainstream culture. I'm talking about the yearning for a simple life, away from the toxins and stress of the city. Popular culture is now saturated with organic cooking, hand made crafts, sustainable building techniques and home grown vegetables. We are embracing the notion of taking our time - slow food, slow travel and slow living are broadly accepted concepts. Not that this should be surprising, nor are any of these ideas new. In fact, it's the way things always were before the industrial and agricultural revolutions steamrolled their way over the world and the resulting urbanisation mean most modern populations now live with very little day to day connection with the countryside.

So, this turn back to the rural life can be seen as a long-overdue correction. And an understandable one, as our cities become hugely crowded. Of course, I'm being biased here and am talking about us fortunate souls in the first world. In developing nations nobody longs to be a small farmer; scratching a living out of a small piece of land and hoping the next natural disaster won't ruin your crop and spell disaster for your family. In the western word however, we are free to indulge ourselves in this yearning for the simplicities of rural life, while we rush between home, work, gym, pub, club and cinema, microblogging, tagging and shuffling as we go.

This is the contradiction I'm talking about. It feels like we long for the trappings of simplicity - the food, the clothes, the books, the garden - while never considering the simplification of our mental lives. The modern 20 year old probably has more going on in their brain than a 20 year old did just 5 years ago. I don't mean they are more intelligent than a 20 year old from the past, just that they have more information in their environments. And this, of course, is all down to the internet. Now, I love the internet. If someone cut off my high speed broadband for half a day I would cope, buy only just. And I have no desire to simplify my internet use - the opposite in fact. Every day I discover something new online. I just joined Twitter, for instance - even though I have a Plurk account. I have also just signed up to a new music download service and am practically salivating at the rabbit hole of delights that awaits me next time I log on to this site. I am mentally scheduling which US series to stream over the next week or two: The Wire or Weeds? In short, I am hooked. I will happily spend an hour and a half preparing organic fish pie from scratch, as long as I have my trusty laptop streaming the music I like from at the same time. I am the classic example of someone who wants to slow down and simplify my life, but I can't imagine having to give up the thing that keeps me in a state of constant mental flux in the first place.

This is not an internet bashing blog. I mean, how ridiculous would that be? It's pretty much all stream of consciousness. I'm examining these ideas for the first time myself and hopefully you won't find my blatherings too tedious. I definitely think the internet is a tool that has helped me simplify my life in lots of ways. There are so many things I can do online that save me time (internet banking? shopping? duh, SEARCH?) and money (music, movies, tv, shopping, skype). But I find myself guilty of greediness and competitiveness too. I want all the albums I can get for free and I want them now. I need to use five social networking sites, not just one. I need to subscribe to every RSS feed I come across, even though it only makes me feel guilty when I don't actually read the updates. I find myself logging on when I know I should be doing something offline, just to check my Facebook and *poof* an hour later and I'm still commenting on friends' photos and status updates. It makes me lose sleep and steals my time when I know I could be doing more worthwhile things, like hand feeding organic apples to pedigree pigs in the back garden. Or something.

In any case, this blog is about the broader subject of lifestyle change, simplicity and downsizing. I was inspired by the book Enough by John Naish. I'm unemployed at the moment and about a year into a period of soul searching about what to do about my future: get back in the rat race and back to the city; or bite the bullet, move to the countryside and raise a goat? A big part of me wants to do the latter, but a huge part doesn't want to give up the city life and all that goes with it. Mostly I'm scared shitless to bite the bullet.

So, I'm going to write about it instead. And about other things too, maybe.