The picture shows a little collection of pebbles and a shell that sits on the desk in my office. There are similar collections in various locations at home and some of my coats have a pebble permanently in one pocket – there’s even a shell on the dashboard of our car. They have all been picked up during walks on beaches [see my post entitled ‘Take a walk on the wild side‘ on 26th August 2015] and serve as reminders of the ‘slowness’ enjoyed on vacation [see my post ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd, 2015]. Barbara Hepworth owned a similar collection of stones that you can see in the Hepworth Wakefield. On the subject of this habit she wrote in 1961: ‘Many people select a stone or a pebble to carry for the day. The weight and form and texture felt in our hands relates us to the past and gives us a sense of a universal force. The beautifully shaped stone, washed up by the sea, is a symbol of continuity, a silent image of our desire for survival, peace and security.’ I could not express it better so I didn’t try.
The quote is from a contribution to the film Barbara Hepworth directed by John Read, BBC TV, 1961 and can be found in Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, edited by Sophie Bowness, London: Tate Publishing, 2015.
While we were sitting in the Red Deer in Sheffield enjoying a couple of pints of Iron & Steel Bitter from the Chantry Brewery in Rotherham, my long-time Swiss collaborator, and sometime correspondent on this blog, asked me: what’s the difference between an ale and a beer? And, I had to admit that I couldn’t provide a definitive answer to satisfy his curiosity. So, I am going to have another go, now. Beer is an alcoholic drink made from a cereal grain and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ale is any beer other than lager, stout, or porter!
However, ‘real ale is a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops water and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide‘ according to CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. So the Iron & Steel Bitter that we enjoyed at the Red Deer was a real ale.
My digital detox during July [see my post entitled ‘In digital detox‘ on July 19th, 2017] included sampling bottled ales from local West Country breweries and the photograph shows my favorites ranked from left to right. Many were enjoyed while overseeing the BBQ in the picture below; however, the time in the Red Deer involved some rather more productive brain-storming for the MOTIVATE project [see my post entitled ‘Getting smarter‘ on June 21st, 2017].
It has become a habit during our summer vacation to read the novels short-listed for Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Unusually this year, we were not only unanimous in our choice of the best novel but we also agreed with the judges and selected the ‘The Power‘ by Naomi Alderman. In another of the books, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, a Chinese composer called Sparrow thinks ‘about the quality of sunshine, that is, how daylight wipes away the stars and planets, making them invisible to human eyes, might daylight be a form of blindness? Could it be that sound was also be a form of deafness? If so, what was silence?’. I felt some resonance between these thoughts and John Hull’s writings on blindness and my earlier blog posting on ‘Listening with your eyes shut‘ [on May 31st, 2017]. In our everyday life, we are bombarded with sounds from people living around us, from traffic and from devices in our homes and places of work. We rarely experience silence; however, when we do, perhaps on holiday staying in a remote rural location, then a whole new set of sounds becomes apparent: waves breaking on the shore in the distance, the field mouse rooting around under the floorboards, or the noises of cattle enjoying the lush grass in the field next door. Okay, so you have to be in the right place to hear these sounds of nature but you also need silence otherwise you are deaf to them, as Sparrow suggests.
The same is true for knowledge and understanding because our minds have finite capacity [see my post entitled ‘Silence is golden‘ on January 14th, 2014]. When you are bombarded with information and data it is easy to become overwhelmed and unable to structure the information in way that makes it useful or meaningful. In our connected society, information has become like white noise, or daylight obscuring the stars and planets. Information is blinding us to knowledge and understanding. We need to aggressively filter the information flow in order to gain insight and knowledge. We should switch off the digital devices, which bombard us with information constantly, to leave our minds free for conceptual and creative thinking because that’s one of the few tasks in which we can outperform the smartest machine [see my post entitled ‘Smart machines‘ on February 26th, 2014].
I am on vacation so I am re-posting something I wrote around this time last year which I still think is relevant.
It’s official – half of us are addicted to our internet-connected devices and a third of us have attempted to kick the addiction. A recent study by the UK’s communication regulator, OFCOM found that 59% of internet users considered themselves ‘hooked’ and spending the equivalent of more than a day a week on-line. They also reported that one in three internet users have attempted a ‘digital detox’ with a third saying they felt more productive afterwards, while slightly more that a quarter found it liberating and another quarter said they enjoyed life more. So, switch off all of your devices, take a deep vacation, do some off-line reading (see my post entitled ‘Reading offline‘ on March 19th, 2014), slow down and breathe your own air (see my post entitled ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd, 2015). Now, you won’t find many blogs advising you to stop reading them!
Health warning: OFCOM also found that 16% of ‘digital detoxers’ experienced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out’ (‘FOMO’), 15% felt lost and 14% ‘cut-off’.
Technology enables us to do more in a period of time. A classic example is the washing-machine that requires you to do little more than load your dirty clothes and switch it on rather than laboriously wash, scrub and rinse each item repeatedly. It costs less time to do the same thing and so we experience time-deflation. It’s the same as with money: if you can buy two hamburgers today for the price of one yesterday then there has been some deflation. In these circumstances, it becomes less important to have a large income because the necessities of life have reduced in price, and so you could work less hard, start saving more (but for what?) or buy some of life’s luxuries. However, the analogy between time and money breaks down at this point, because you can’t reduce your supply of time or save it, you have to spend it. But advancing technology means nearly everything costs less time and so it gets harder and harder to spend your alloted time. Many of us react by trying to do more and more diverse activities, and often simultaneously, with the result that we over-compensate for time-deflation and become bankrupt, or burnt out wrecks.
We can cheat technology’s deflating effect by pursuing activities that involve no time-saving technology such as walking, reading, thinking and spending time with our loved ones. In the last case, the clue is in the phraseology!
BTW – I will be on deep vacation by the time you read this post. Amongst other things, I will be curing my tsundoko by reading the books I bought in Camden Lock Books earlier in the summer [see my post entitled ‘Tsundoko‘ on May 24th 2017].