Monday, 30 September 2013

Strolling Through The City

In nineteenth-century Paris, there was a type of man known as the flâneur.

He was a sort of strolling dandy, a work-shunning poet, who ambled through the city, lingering in the arcades, lolling on benches and making observations.

Some of the most extreme flâneurs used to take a tortoise on their walks, because they liked to let the tortoise set the pace.

We can be a modern-day flâneur in our own town:  just set out from your front door and make a deliberate attempt to walk slowly.

It will seem unnatural at first, but that is only because we are starting to overcome years of A-to-B speed-walking conditioning.

Soon the slower pace will become more habitual and you will take great pleasure in the world of limitless wonder that ambling opens up to us.

Of course having your camera on hand is an added bonus!

“But the beauty is in the walking -- we are betrayed by destinations.” 
~~ Gwyn Thomas

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
'Ride,' Pleasure said;
'Walk,' Joy replied.” 

~~ W.H. Davies

Fountain near the Sydney Art Gallery

Mural painted on a house in Surry Hills, Sydney

Juneau, Alaska we came across two husky dogs while walking around the town. - May 2013

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Sunday Drive and the App

Does anyone still go on a Sunday drive? The 1970's, I suppose, was the last time it was commonly done. People would set out with no set purpose or aim, heading up the coast, then motor back to town.

The car itself was so engrossing, so interesting, so innately sexy, that time spent in its company required no further reward.

To most of us, that now seems nutty. The point is to get somewhere!

Young people in particular have fallen out of love with the car. They would rather travel on public transport and check their iPhone/Smartphone, the item that's replaced the car as an expression of freedom and adulthood.

There's a battle being waged over those digital devices, some argue the apocalypse is upon us: parents, themselves distracted by their devices, have allowed a generation of young people to rewire their own brains.

This, of course, brings hoots of derision from those who argue that humanity has always embraced new technology and become richer and wiser for it.

The history of the car - and of that Sunday drive - might be a good place to start.

When cars came on the scene there was great anxiety. The technology was seen as alarming and dangerous; drivers were required to hire a man to walk ahead of the vehicle waving a red flag.

In retrospect this seems absurd, yet this was followed by a period that, to our eyes, now appears equally absurd: a time in which the new technology was embraced with such abandon, with such uncritical glee, that it was allowed to remake the world in its own image.

Cars were fun and liberating - that's why we fell for them with such a swoon - yet they also poisoned our lungs, chewed up our countryside and brought foreign wars to secure fuel.

We were unwilling to put any limit on a device so intriguing, so liberating. Adding a seatbelt was a battle that took years. Lead was left in the petrol because the engine seemed to like it.

Most of us look back at that period with bewilderment. We now believe the car should be tamed so it suits our wider needs: seatbelts, emission limits, a better balance between spending on road and rail.

Which brings us back to those digital devices. We are midway, it seems to me, along a road we have already travelled. As with the car, we started with outright anxiety - the red-flag period - then entered a period in which the technology became dominant, as if it were setting its own rules.

This, for many households, is where we are now. Kids and adults sit, dotted around the house, all using different devices, skipping from app to app, for hours at a time.

This is not done to get anywhere, to achieve anything; it's for the pleasure of time spent with the device.

Remember that Sunday drive?

The spaghetti junctions of LA still represent the worst of the motor car and its unfettered dominance. Will the rewired spaghetti of our brains come to represent a similar period of uncritical embrace?

No sensible person believes we can take a hammer to all new technology. True, we couldn't eradicate those mechanised looms, but they could be bent to better suit human needs.

Maybe we now need some push-back of our own. If nothing else, someone needs to say the obvious: if you wanted to produce a machine for creating social anxiety, particularly in teenagers, you'd probably come up with something that looked exactly like Facebook.

When parents demand children put down their devices, or when they make a deal with themselves to take a digital holiday, they are not being Luddites. They are merely getting ahead of an inevitable wave - one in which we will all understand that this technology, like all those that preceded it, must be bent to our needs.

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
~~H.G. Wells

"Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly."
~~Author Unknown

This is me at the family home in 1974 in my Sprite

Love this photo!