Saturday, 4 January 2014

Going Cold Turkey on Christmas

And so on December 24th, “Boreas blew a terrific gale” (1)  bent Cottarton’s trees until they were horizontal.  The internet blinked and went out along with the land line. Later we learned that down the road a tree had fallen on the phone line and snapped it. Cottarton was plunged into the Dark Ages.

We are not what you’d call remote. We’re in the country but only a few miles from reasonably sized towns. The land line works well but the internet crawls to where you can barely stream a movie. Mobile phone signal? Well, if you stick the phone to your ear, crawl into a corner of the kitchen, then stand on your head, a couple of bars of signal MAY visit you. And so, doing precisely that, I reported our problem to BT. The operator in Bombay said that the fault would be repaired by January 31. Finally, on  January 2 they came through.

Amber and I often considered offering technology-free retreats, weekend escapes from the burdens of technology: emails, internet, FB, Twitter ---the sense of being connected, which in reality may increase a sense of inner isolation.  After Boreas’s terrific gale had pulled the plug on us, we had a chance to find out what we were missing. I've never thought of us as internet junkies; we're not worried about what people are tweeting or FB'ing about us behind our backs. Nevertheless the lack of connection unnerved us.

Oddly enough, what I missed most of all were weather forecasts. I was nervous living from day to day not knowing if the day would bring a snow storm . I watched clouds gather and disperse without the slightest idea of what they were supposed to be up to. If I wanted to know what weathermen were saying I had to schedule a time to turn on the TV, something I often forgot to do. There was no internet banking! Our overdrawn accounts would have to await the pleasure of BT. No doubt our friends wanted to know if we’d dropped off the Earth; we had no way to tell them that we hadn’t. For recipes we consulted cookbooks, as we used to do twenty years ago. Arguments could no longer be settled by looking something up on the internet. As in the old days, the guy who shouted loudest won the argument. Altogether I realized how often I distract myself by looking up this and that on the internet.

 Distract myself from what? No doubt from silence. Usually that's what we’re trying to escape.

We talked a lot more to each other than we might have otherwise. Laptops and mobile phones  largely disappeared from the living room. Game boards appeared more than in previous years. We did turn on the TV but the dreadful holiday programming didn’t captivate us. News was mostly the body-bag/child abuse variety. The world had to turn without us while we remained ignorant of important developments beyond our borders.

We missed talking to our far-flung friends and family, wondered how they were doing, if everyone was all right. A lack of instant communication breeds crowded thoughts and worries. I had grown up without a phone --- our house didn’t acquire one until long after I left the nest. The postman was our contact with the world, and news didn’t travel fast. If it did --- you really worried. A telegram at your door was something to dread. My parents worried a lot about me while I was in the States, perhaps because we communicated only by occasional letter.

Without our technology, more than anything we feel uncertain. Not knowing. We’ve grown up with the information age, a sense of knowing facts, whether about the weather or about our friends. And we want it all instantly. Not knowing puts us into a space that’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable. We don’t willingly embrace it. At least, until a break in that phone line forces us to.

(1) William McGonnaGall, "The Tay Bridge Disaster" See The Anti-Poet

1 comment:

  1. Love the William McGonnagall reference!! ;-)