The confident strides are beginning to falter. Hesitant. We look down a vaguely familiar track on the right. Opposite lies an equally familiar, standard issue path: winding, potholed, indistinct. Both are flanked by an invitingly impenetrable darkness of coniferous trees. Both have the charming shabbiness of neglect with the reassuring evidence of frequent use. But repeated inspection fails to yield the key information we need- which is the right one to take?
I had gone for a walk with my Dad which, being in rural England, was probably a Sunday afternoon. In a defiant gesture of being on holiday and back to the simple country life, I had left my phone at home. My Dad doesn’t even own a phone. We walked around in circles for a few minutes, waiting for the hardwired male satnav to pick up the requisite signals. Gradually an unfamiliar sensation began to dawn that at first I couldn’t quite identify, a hazy figure in the mists of memory. And then I could see it. We were LOST. If someone were to come and ask me at that moment to identify my exact location on this earth, I would have had to acknowledge ignorance.
Initially I felt a little annoyed. The reflex extension to the pocket (deep brainàspineàhand, conscious cerebral hemisphere efficiently bypassed) was left frustrated. No rescuing red pin in an electronic map. My careful timings for the rest of the day (cup of tea- evening news- supper- reading my book) hung in the balance and I was losing control. Precious irretrievable seconds were slipping from my fingers…Yet. Yet. As the 4 o’clock deadline for afternoon tea approached the anxiety was gradually replaced by a warm flood of nostalgia, from which rose a triumphant sense of freedom.
This seemed to be a particularly retro situation to find myself in. Google Maps in absentia, no phone for assistance. A brief foray into looking at the direction of the sun inevitably ended in failure and we had to recourse to some circuitous wandering based on little more than nautical intuition.
How liberating that wandering was. AàBàC was replaced by A……ßA…à C…↓B….↑. I was introduced to a pheasant coop contained secretly within an otherwise innocuous copse of trees. The second lap added further detail completely missed on the previous round, as did the third and fourth. Isn’t it interesting that a bird that is perfectly capable of flight should remain in a pen without a roof on? The corn must have been tasty. A field of purple thistles in flower drew the eye that would otherwise have been distracted by the arrival of B on the horizon. This imposition on my control of time and place had sharpened my focus on the present.
Recently Facebook announced plans to float on the stock market. In his announcement the founder, Mark Zuckerberg, stated his vision is ‘to make the world more open and connected.’ Another new social networking site, Linkedin, adds a professional element in its promise to help you ‘discover inside connections’ to ‘power your career.’ Last week a friend shared his delight with the new iPhone4s, which has an app that can precisely locate all his friends who also have the same app.
My aim is not to tediously bemoan social media. But I wonder what proportion of your AàB journeys- walking to work, commuting on the train- are spent looking at a screen, if not to check where you are on the map, to check emails or your news feed? What do we miss out on seeing by this?
Here’s an activity for this week:
- Leave your phone on the table at home.
- Put on a warm coat (if you’re in England at the moment), or some sunglasses (if you’re in Hawaii)
- Leave the house without a destination in mind
- And LOOK UP as you walk.
I’d love to know what you see.