— THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE

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AdAge recently drew my attention to this project from the always innovative and provocative Mother London. At the last Internet Week Europe, Mother decided to run an experiment in digital fasting. (I don’t think I need to point out the irony of that). No Internet Week.

I watched the entire piece, and instead of being nudged into rethinking my own internet habits, it infuriated me. Not because the message isn’t important, but that it’s delivered with such a sense of superiority and snobbishness, that it undermines it’s whole point.

The experiment actually starts off well. The diverse nature of the group selected shows how pervasive and cross generational the phrase ‘digital native’ has become (especially with it’s heavy associations with Millennials). The initial days of no digital interactions are actually quite revealing.

Then the wheels fall off.

The shift this film takes is one that you increasingly see across the digital landscape. It’s the idea that somehow ‘switching off’, taking an internet break, is a badge of honor, of one-upmanship, that the Internet is a stark choice of addiction or absolution. I myself have been guilty of this, a few years ago, I posted on here a post called ‘Cabin Porn’. It’s beautiful pictures of isolated cabins, sparked a moment in me where I felt I needed to curb, or at least revel in those moments that were not dominated by the internet. In the intervening years, this idea has gone ‘overground’.  Just today, I saw a rather excellent press ad from Guinness that talks directly to the pervasiveness of phones on pub tables. Bands are increasingly asking their fans to put away their phones and iPads (shudder) when at a gig. While these push-backs are relatively embryonic, they do illustrate a culture where the personal regulation of internet usage becomes a cultural norm.

It’s easy to forget that we are not even a decade into the smart phone era. Indeed, many people online were staggered to recollect that the iPhone only came out in 2007. We are still grappling with technologies that are barely out of their teens, and in the smart phones case, not even out of the 2nd grade.

But these aren’t arguments that this experiment is interested in dealing with. The point taken is that the Internet is somehow a life-sucking, disruptive, destroyer of relationships and interactions. Instead of promoting or contextualizing what smart digital usage looks and acts like, we’re left with a typically British (and deeply Calvinist) sense of self flagellation. That when we binge, we deserve to be punished. To have our toys taken away as punishment. There is no idea of moderation. Simply of absolution.

When sensitive, smart films like ‘Her’ explore our relationships with technology in very human and thought provoking ways, the shrillness of ‘No Internet Week’ becomes even more pronounced. Maybe if it treated the Internet and their behaviors with the maturity it deserves then maybe the insights would have been a bit more useful to others, not just the participants.

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(Photo – Cabin Overlooking the Pacific by Mark Wickens)

Cabin Porn has spread like wildfire these last few weeks. Surely some of that is down to it’s title, (There’s no better link bait than porn is there?), beyond that, there’s actually something a little bit more interesting going on underneath this staggering collection of beautiful shots of Cabins. All collated, they start to reflect a rising sentiment that has swept over social networks (and therefore the ‘Digerati’) at the beginning of 2012.

“The Joy Of Quiet”

The article in the New York Times popped up towards the end of the 2011. It raised a very pertinent question at the end of a very exhausting year economically, socially, politically and crucially, technologically.  Have we lost the ability to enjoy peace and quiet?. An even handed argument for the profound benefits of technology, and social networks was presented, but also sounded a warning. In the whirlwinds of our technological advancements, we were in danger of losing our ability to switch off, to enjoy those moments of peace and quiet. To just be. That place where actually we can do some of our best, and clearest thinking.

At the end of a transformative ‘social’/internet enabled year for me, it really hit home.

It seemed as though I wasn’t alone in this reflection. ‘Quiet’ was something many of us had been ignoring. See, the idea of doing nothing in the 2010’s, especially in the peer pressure-24/7-content-factory that our social feeds have become are now persona-non-grata. Everyone is now multiple media node. (And as the article points out for teenagers, who have grown up with the web, this is even more true). No-one is off. People now even pay to be removed from their devices. I know that I personally have Freedom installed on the machine and on more often, ready and waiting to shackle the Internet’s Pandora’s Box of delights. But this is great for desktop, but what prevents you picking up the iPad or iPhone?. Nothing, but your own willpower.

Social connectivity is pervasive.

The article clearly hit home. Some of the people that I respect the most in my twitter stream posted it, many of the people that I know had made significant life choices in 2011 (looking at you UberBlond) wrote about the moment of pause that the article reflected. This unassuming article  stuck in the middle of the NYT, seemed to stop alot of people in their tracks. It resonated in other ways, in the way that many people had renounced their previous careers, to pursue something more, something that they loved and in that way, created their own level of quiet. Their own freedom. The article suddenly took on more multi-faceted elements.

At Christmas, the pace of media (naturally) slowed. A quirk of the British holidays (gawd bless ’em), meant that the time off was actually rather lengthy. I for one spent lovely languid days in a deserted London, catching up with friends, loafing about in the Cow in Notting Hill, escaping the East London fug, and generally taking shit out of fourth gear. It was great.

I also took a long hard look at how much I was sharing, (which in truth, had moved towards more talking as opposed to sharing as my interactions with multiple Twitter people, who I would now call friends, had evolved). I reflected on how much time I would refresh my feed, even if only for that extra new tweet on my phone. It was getting a bit nuts.

I vowed to try and create a space in 2012 for the Joy Of Quiet myself. Naturally in January, this can look like a hollow ambition, more akin to Protestant guilt than actual change. I’m skeptical of cold turkey. However, I do believe in moderation. That moderation through January has helped slowly subside that killer FOMO moment. I haven’t opened up Twitter on my iPhone since January 1. I have a renewed focus, more time to write, (and I mean write) things, like this. Long things, thoughtful things. (I know Mr Tait & Mr Kinsella are sharing the same sentiment with their blogging habits). More time to sit, read, listen to music, drift away, and wander. Things that I’ve loved doing from the moment I first moved to London. More focus on what I want to do and achieve in 2012. (Big moves, big things).

While I adore things like Twitter, and Instagram, and have been life-changing platforms for me, they also aren’t going anywhere, it’s OK to miss out, to keep quiet sometimes.

Which brings me back to Cabin Porn. If the Joy of Quiet was the written manifesto of evolved internet interactions is 2012. Then Cabin Porn is it’s visual doppelganger. Take a close look at these photos. The most interesting images here are not the beautifully stylised homes on Lake Tahoe or in an exclusive upstate enclave. They are the ones of little shacks, seemingly period pieces from gritty Westerns or rural Apalachian nowheresvilles.

Their remoteness, and therefore disconnectedness, is the true appeal. They are places to write, to create, to contemplate, to escape. They are the 21st Century communes. They remind me of a hippy utopia, or films like Vanishing Point. They are silence. Incredible, magical silence. Even with all the technological, social, economic and cultural upheavals around us, sometimes we just like to “Get Back to the Garden” (as Joni Mitchell put it). We would do well to keep these images in our mind, lest, go and explore them ourselves. Cabin Porn is the The Joy Of Quiet.

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