When your basic inspiration for writing is to compare off-the-grid living to urban living it seems a basic requirement that you actually know something about the two lifestyles. And I do. Or, better put, I used to.
I am not so sure anymore.
It is true that I lived urban for over 55 years. And hardly regretted a minute of it until the last ten or so (even then I couldn’t put my finger on it). It is also true that I used to think that camping was simply a form of masochism-in-dirt-with-bugs and that everything not a Xmas tree was likely just more dirt and rocks with a bear thrown in for colour and mosquitoes for additional aggravation. I didn’t really appreciate the nuances of nature. Not at all.
But, as you know, I do now. Now I am a country guy. Not a particularly good country guy but I am learning. And I am enjoying the learning even more than the actual rocks and Xmas trees. I am still mostly a cerebral country guy. Real country guys kill things and don’t shower. I don’t expect I’ll ever get that country. Yuck!
And that, I thought, would be the basic story: country enlightenment for the still-urban-afflicted. Poor innocents learning from the overly enthusiastic newbie-of-the-glen.
Now, I am not so sure. It is true that I am learning country and it is also true that I am willing to share it but I have learned that the urban playing field is changing faster than ever. I may not have enough of an accurate perspective on the city anymore to do a fair comparison. The city is moving too fast for my comparisons to be worth the pixels I am expending.
This is a surprising turn of events.
For instance: I really hadn’t grasped how ‘smart phones’ had infiltrated modern life. Of course I knew of them. I see them. I have even used one or two. But I was somewhat shocked to see them everywhere all the time when I was last in Hong Kong. It was amazing to see millions of people associating but NOT in person. Millions of people removed from one another despite being pressed together like sardines. I thought it weird then. But I thought it an Asian phenomenon.
It is not.
Last night six mature (over 50) people had a quiet New Years Eve going on at a remote island up the BC coast. Think- Dan’l Boone and friends plus dogs. No one else around within a five mile radius. Halfway through – a cell phone rang. Two of the people made automatic moves for their hip pockets. Like gunfighters in a saloon. Both resisted the urge. We all looked at each other. I could almost hear the theme song from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Doo dee dum! Eyes whipped around. Hands remained frozen. And then they both decided to ignore it.
The ghost cell phone rang again…………………….doo dee dum………the two phone owners locked eyes.
“You on call?”
“I am always on call.” (ooooh…shades of Clint Eastwood)
And I was thinking: I am never on call! Hell, no one even calls me regular-like! I am no longer one of them. I am different.
So then we had a quick chat about smart phones and their features and ‘what kind do you have’ and ‘do you have wi-fi here’ and all that sort of thing. And I was thinking………..”It is New Years eve. Nobody is a doctor here. And yet, my friends are still in touch. They are still in touch even though they can’t see another light for miles and they are not needed by anyone. They are connected despite being remote. But, more to the point – this is now normal!”
I know, I know……….there is not a helluva lot of difference between that and e-mail. I know that. But it struck me that the real difference was one of altered realities. I am truly living in a different reality.
I came to live out here and was eventually pulled back ‘down to earth’ from my previous madding crowd mind-set by the sheer physical-ness of what my life had become. From not actually even seeing them before I moved up here, I had come to know and like the different rocks and Xmas trees. I had even come to know that not all Xmas trees are alike. Not all rocks are alike. Even the dirt was different in different places. I was like a young Inuit being taught the various kinds of snow!
I had come to feel a new reality and I was quite amazed at how insulated I had been from all this. But part of that new awareness of the country was by way of a new awareness of the city. Urban, for me, was starting to look more like fantasy. It was, of course, more managed. Less wild. It was just more artificial in some kind of way. The city no longer struck me as real. Not really real. Not physical. Not hands-on.
But now I think that the last ten years has made it even more unreal. It is now even more invested in fantasy. People in the city are more insulated and, in a way, more isolated from the real and present by yet another ‘grid’, yet another way of demising, yet another way of insulation. They seem to live in layers of veils. Now they can actually live on and in their pixelated screens.
“So what!? Modern life. Technology. Things change. Life evolves. Get over yourself, Dave!”
OK. Sorry. But it is just that all this technology is mostly a kind of magic that obfuscates what we really want out of life. I think. We want to communicate with each other and so we develop communication devices and, in so doing, seem to end up not communicating as well as before. I would argue that a tweet is not as communicative as an e-mail which is not as communicative as a phone call which, in turn, is not as communicative as a conversation. Somehow our new, magic technology seems to be missing the point.
Like Monsanto misses the point of agriculture.
I guess what I am saying is this: technology is, for most of us, a form of magic. And a weird by-product of this magic is that we are living more and more in a fantasy world. Coming out here is, I think, more real. More of a grounding in a personal-sized reality, anyway. Maybe it is just the physicalness of my new lifestyle but I think it is more than that. I think it is the physicalness on the one hand coupled with the opposite force of increasing the fantasy on the other.
One thing is for sure – one feels more alive out here than one does staring at a screen in the city. That has to mean something. Doo dee dummmm……………doooodleeeee doooooooooo…………