Years ago I read a novel about the Norwegian Resistance to the Nazi German invasion and occupation of Norway. One of the Resistance fighters was captured and later led out to be executed. I always remember how he described looking at the world around him for the last time, admiring the blue of the sky and the beauty of the landscape, a world which he would shortly be leaving.
This novel has stayed in my memory because I’ve often wondered how I’d feel if I knew that I only had a few remaining days, hours or minutes on Earth. It reminds me to treasure the world we live in. I love the changing weather, the scenery wherever I live (and yes, I have moved a few times and lived in different parts of this beautiful, awe-inspiring planet which we occupy for a short time), and simply the sound of silence. Of course, I don’t manage to do this every day, I’m a human being not a bloomin’ saint, but I do bring myself back to the magic surrounding us on a regular basis.
I was reminded of this novel when I looked at the illustration on the October page of my calendar – pictured above. It’s by Ron Tandberg, an Australian cartoonist who manages to make profound statements with the simplest of images. As you can see, the October cartoon shows a tree in flower in spring but the man misses this completely because he’s looking at his mobile camera/iPod or whatever. And underneath it says simply: “Spring is here, and a man watches a football match on his device”.
When I was in the UK recently, I was struck by the numbers of people with their noses stuck to their iPad, or a mobile phone glued to their ears as they walked through streets or sat on trains oblivious to the world around them. You don’t see quite so many smartphones or iPads in North Cyprus, but mobile phones are thick on the ground and clamped to ears just as they are in the UK. It may well be that if I was part of the younger generation, I’d be enamoured of these devices too. They really are a wonderful tool in communication and opening up creativity, as long as you are in charge and the iPhone, iPad or smart phone isn’t.
The other thing I noticed back in the UK was the lack of silence. Everywhere there is noise – muzack playing in shopping centres, TVs blaring all the time, radios on. Back here in North Cyprus, life is in the slow lane and it is much quieter. Yes, it’s noisy when you’re in the main centres of Nicosia, Kyrenia or Famagusta, but there’s a noticeable lack of street advertising everywhere and in the small shops which are characteristic of this small country, muzack is – thankfully – not very prevalent.
We tend to think of substances such as alcohol or heroin or cocaine when we think of addiction. Yet the preoccupation with mobile devices to the exclusion of awareness of the world or people is just as much as an addiction as substance addiction. I’m quite amazed when I read of people sleeping with their mobile phone or Blackberry under their pillow, or read about the number of times people check their e-mail. It’s as if our self-esteem depends on how many e-mails we read, how many calls we receive or make, how many apps we’ve got, but really – just how much information can we process without feeling totally and utterly frazzled? And does it change our world at all?
In this respect, I’ve just been reading a book by Julia Cameron on relationship with money, and one of the things she asks her students to do is to have a week free of the news, e-mails, i-Phones and so on. In other words, her students are asked to give away distractions and live with themselves, be open to their own inner voice and be open to whatever creative ideas come their way during the week of withdrawal from outside media influences. Most of them react with absolute horror at the idea but at the end of the week, many of the students admit that they have been more creative, become more aware of the world around them and, most importantly, were able to re-connect with people.
In my own case, I’ve been addicted to the news for years and year and I have gradually pared back what I read, watch and listen to. Coming to North Cyprus has been an interesting experience, since we lived for a while without television and we don’t have radio news because everything we find on the radio waves is in Turkish. What we’ve found is that we’ve enjoyed the peace and quiet without the TV, even though we weren’t great TV wachers or radio listeners anyway back in Australia. I do still like to read the newspapers but I know it’s a habit and I was struck by Julia Cameron’s comment about how we bring so much negativity into our lives via the mass media.
So in the forthcoming period I’ve decided to limit my daily news quota to a look at the news on-line first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon, the TV news at 9pm on BBC Worldwide, and e-mails ditto – first thing in the morning and later in the evening. I do not use the computer after 8pm as I’ve found I feel hyped up and it’s also difficult to get to sleep.
So, those are my good intentions. I thought I’d mention this change in my own habits in case it gave you some ideas for cutting back on social media and the internet, if you feel it’s appropriate for you. I might point out that this is also part of a huge reassessment I’m making of my life, but more of that in another blog which is taking shape right now in my mind.