Is progress always a good thing? 10 years ago due to unforseen circumstances I moved into a house in the same street in which I lived growing up from the age of five. I wrote this piece at that time whilst reflecting on my life and actively making some wholesale changes.
Simplicity: What If?
As we go romp through the decades, life becomes more complex. The more one ages the more one can have an extended view of a different time, a past, a simpler time. That is the privilege of the aged. Those times are always seen as better than today in so many ways. But we have learned that our narratives and memories are rarely that factual and very selective in reviewing the past. I now believe that the past may be one possible solution to our self-destructive futures. But it’s a solution that we will never be able to adopt. Why? Because progress is like a runaway express train, and for better or worse, it will keep on going until it either runs out of track or crashes. Neither ending is one that we should be particularly looking forward to with any great relish. For a moment, bear with me and let me do a “What if?” On this occasion, it’s with my past. You can play this game with your past in the same way. The key to this game is to ensure that resources last for generations to come and this planet survives intact with the human race still attached. There are few wars even now that are not about oil and natural resources. What will occur when they run out? Do the superpowers know more than they are disclosing? They fight constantly over oil. They may claim different reasons, but resources are the reason, and they lie to the masses about why they war, citing freedom, human rights, etc. Will we survive with the planet? In my eyes, this outcome is highly unlikely. It is not a matter of if but more a matter of when.
A nice side effect may be the improvement of the health of nations and a boost for the family unit. We may see a return to societal values that have been lost with the more-is-better philosophy spreading throughout the world like a disease with no cure. Let’s travel back to my past and see if I can improve our chances. I do not even think the past was “the good old days”. I enjoyed them, but this is more about survival, more about controlled, sustainable progress. I do think the future alternative will be worse. I will change things with a click of my fingers, a luxury our mediocre governments do not have access to. They are strangled by red tape. Maybe this is another case when an aristocracy would be better to run the country. Fast decisions could be made by the philosopher-king and his most learned advisers. There would be no eccentric self-serving buffoons in this government.
I live in the same road in which I grew up, and thus I can compare first-hand the many changes this area has undergone in the last fifty years. To start, I look out of my front window. I see cars on all of the driveways, also parked on the sidewalk or path in every available space, and moving up and down the road, barely slowing for the recently installed speed humps. A wall of cars creates a tunnel in the centre for cars to speed up and down. There’s no sign of human life, except for the heads that can be seen focusing intently on getting to their destinations or bust.
I click my fingers, and we are back in time to the decade of 1965-1975. First, we only have one wage earner per household. Part-time work is tolerated in my world for the other partner and possibly growing kids but under strict guidelines. There is a house husband or housewife. Think about how this eases the strain on the planet while it curbs the more-stuff brigade. There is only one car per family if you are lucky. Children play ball in the road, and the prominent sight is of human beings, not machines, cluttering the streets. Most cars are kept in the garages, out of sight. I used to play ball in the street with no fear of getting run down. Human beings are interacting with other human beings.
Are cars the good thing they are sold to be? The effect on the street is catastrophic: the lack of exercise, the drain on resources, the detrimental effect on human relations, road rage, road deaths, and I could go on and on. Have we become brainwashed by the big car companies? Let’s explore further. I now look out of the back window and see a busy road cutting through what was an area of greenery. With a click of my fingers, the road is gone. Fewer cars mean fewer roads. I can now hop over the fence, as I used to, and play in the wooded area. We have gained space for our young people to play together, unsupervised and away from mobile phones, the Internet, television, and computer games. That means fitter, healthier kids and less drain on the planet’s resources.
Let’s look inside. I see a small television with only three channels, and only one of those is commercial or a massive television, with many channels brainwashing kids to want more and more. Adults are not immune either. Fingers clicked again for a small television and fewer channels, please. Thank you. I no longer have to worry about the profit-mongers taking up residence in my living room to sell more of their goods. They never did pay rent for the privilege. I now have more time to spend outside in my recaptured open spaces. I think I will build a den today. Inside, we still have a computer for making our life easier, writing letters, accounting, homework, etc. But we will have no Internet or games that eventually rule our lives. Technology is good for giving us more time to enjoy our wonderful world. But technology has become a master of human beings. Don’t agree? Park your car away. Give up your phone. Cancel your Internet. Get rid of your television. No? But I am sure you have some great reasons that make it impossible. Time to admit we are all under the influence of our techno-toys. Break free, or at least loosen the grip they have on your life.
Next, I wander up to the local shopping area and see seven fast-food outlets. There used to be one fish-and-chip shop, and that was not particularly fast. There is litter everywhere, and fat people and their phones – sorry, but that is what I see– are queuing for crap that barely qualifies as food. Cars block the road, as people’s food habits take priority over the traffic. Click. There is now one fish-and-chip shop once more. Click. Mobile phones disappear. Big red phones boxes appear in all of the busier areas in the UK. People begin to notice others next to them and communicate with them. It’s just grunts at first, but they will get better with practice. Some still have their hands held to their ears, while others are still texting even though their phones have gone. They will evolve once more to adopt a more normal human posture. The junk food shops are replaced with all of the individual specialist shops that used to grace our local areas before the mega markets appeared. Click. All of the mega markets have gone. People now walk to the local shop and meet other locals. Walking loses its stigma as only being for poor people who can’t afford a car. Damn ridiculous idea.
Julie and I walk lots, and you would be amazed at how many people struggle to get their heads around the fact that we choose to walk. They look at us like confused puppies. When they walk, people become less rushed, and life becomes slower but no less efficient. They lose that busy-in-the-head attitude that modern life fosters for most of us. The whole area takes on a more personal feel. Kids are sent to the shops by their parents to buy fruit and potatoes. Taking a bag with newspaper in the bottom to tip the spuds straight in. The apples may be in a bag. If they are lucky, they get to spend the change in the sweet shop. I was once sent to buy a pound of cooking apples and a quarter pound of milk-bottle sweets. I returned with a quarter pound of cooking apples and a pound of milk-bottle sweets. The greengrocer did well to give me a quarter of cookers, considering the size of cooking apples. I was in a lot of trouble, and we didn’t get apple pie that day. Happy days.
The family may even hire a video to watch a movie on their Betamax player. I always knew Betamax was a better machine than VHS. (My click, my rules!) There are no televisions or personal players in bedrooms. These are social occasions to be shared by the family. We all get our turn to choose. Mum and Dad can censor any unsuitable films. Film night is once a week, after family dinner, sitting together at the table, normally on a Friday evening. Home cooked meals seven days a week. Any film can be voted out by the majority, to avoid a really self-indulgent choice by the old’s and the kids dying of boredom, embarrassment, or maybe even enjoying the old’s choice. Aargh!
In 1975, one could walk into a house and the television would not be on. I know it’s difficult to believe. But most televisions do have a cleverly concealed off switch. Or do they?
I will leave this game here, but I have to wonder how many readers are going to have nightmares over losing the car, television, mobile phone, fast-food takeaways, the supermarket, the Internet and then actually having to take a bus, walk and, finally, actually talk to fellow sufferers? Buses are for the peasants, aren’t they? You haven’t lived until you sit next to the chatty, unique, and eccentric individual on the bus, often harshly called the “nutter on the bus.” It might be you. Life can be so cruel. Try it for yourself, and see how much of your past you think would benefit your life, and more to the point, benefit the planet and future generations. You may even notice that you are alive and finally back in the human race, with all of the renewed interest that may – nay, most certainly will – entail.
This is all very well in fantasy land, but it’s impossible to go back, so how can we simplify our lives? A simple change in the way one thinks about all of these objects can have a major effect. Not one of them is indispensable. You can survive without all of them. However, you don’t have to go that far unless you feel you want to. I doubt that it is possible to eradicate all of them, as they have become integral parts of modern life, albeit parts that are largely out of control. Let’s look at each of our techno-rulers individually and see if we can regain some control of our own lives without joining a monastery.
The car, for instance, can be parked away and only used for journeys over a certain distance. Does the household need two cars or a big car? What are the chances of a rhinoceros attacking your car? The safari vehicle is not needed! It is a little ridiculous. Is the car you choose determined by what others will think? Well, it is time to grow up. Nobody cares what car you drive, and anybody that does is particularly sad and not a person you would want to include in your life. At least, you can re-educate them.
The mobile phone can be turned off or left at home very often. You don’t have to respond to texts and calls the instant they come in. Why would anybody want to be on call twenty-four hours a day? Train your friends to know when you are available by not being available all of the time.
As for social networking sites, delete your accounts. They are a total waste of time, in my opinion. Rubbish in, rubbish out. There’s nothing good to be gained from these sites that can’t be accomplished in other ways. The best communication and decisions are made when one allows oneself thinking time. Give yourself a chance for some quality communication that isn’t shared with dozens of so-called friends. I know a young lady, not a very pleasant person, no matter how much we try. She has hundreds of friends online but cannot maintain one decent friendship in real life. People try to get close, but she just can’t help lying and manipulating any person daft enough to trust her for a moment. Maybe there is a connection.
Another novel idea would be to keep the same gadget for many years or until it wears out or breaks. The latest model just makes you another person with the latest model – a statistic, nothing more. Otherwise, I suspect you are buying it for others, not for yourself, and that is just silly. Stop caring about what others think about your gadgets and lifestyle. It’s your life. Live it your way. Hopefully, that is different from other people, or you are just kidding yourself and sticking with the herd. Moo!
The television is largely full of absolute crappy programming and advertising. It creates a trance-like state in viewers. Nothing on television is that vital that it could not be viewed another time on DVD or online. You will find that when you wait, you will not even bother to watch by the time the opportunity presents itself. I watch David Attenborough and carefully chosen DVDs in retrospect; nothing else has proved worthy as yet. Time is valuable; I don’t want to waste it staring at brain-numbing rubbish in the corner of my lounge. You only watch the television because it is there, often gigantic, in your living room and it takes very little effort.
Once you have cancelled your cable subscription, you will be able to buy a bookcase to house your ever-growing library of high-culture books. Who knows? One day your bookcase may be as big as your television. For now, you can hide it behind your television. Maybe one day you will be more proud of your bookcase than your television. That will be a landmark day. Hopefully, it will come very soon. A basic book-reader-only gadget, such as a basic Kindle, is even kinder to the environment, although not all books are available in the format. One drawback is that one can’t drop a bookcase down the toilet, as I did with my Kindle just the other day. It’s the only way one would ever fit three hundred books down the toilet. That would make a good trick question.
You get the point that all of these gadgets can be used to improve your life. Currently, they dominate most lives in the Western world. A little restructuring will work wonders for regaining control of your life whilst helping the planet by consuming less. You may even have many ideas of your own to make your life simpler and at the same time more rewarding for your intellect, health, social relationships, and the personal growth that you never thought possible that continues for the rest of your life.
ALL OF THIS OR SOMEWHERE IN-BETWEEN
IN THE DECADE THAT HAS PASSED SINCE THIS WRITING I HAVE COME TO KNOW THAT SOMEWHERE IN-BETWEEN IS WHERE THE SWEET SPOTS FOR LIFE CAN BE DISCOVERED. THIS IS THE FLEXARIAN ATTITUDE. AND LIFE’S CHALLENGE IS DISCOVERING THOSE SWEET SPOTS.