Random Musings: Remote living

How quickly so many in our country accepted the need for lockdown. Having been frightened into believing that proximity to other people can lead to death, will an eventual return to being part of a crowd be welcomed or cause further stress?

I have enjoyed living in the Wiltshire countryside since I moved here close to thirty years ago. In the past few weeks it has proved even more of a boon. I am surrounded by fields and woodland with their sparsely populated network of footpaths and trails to explore. The quiet lanes that meander between small towns and villages are ideal for bike rides. When people were still mostly staying home even the major roads were pleasant to cycle along. Blessed by many days of dry weather I have been able to make the most of my daily exercise and thereby keep my mental health in balance.

One thing that can be a challenge in rural living is the internet access. My home is on the far edge of a village and on the edge of its digital connectivity. We regularly find ourselves cut off, even if only for short periods of time. Mobile reception can also be sporadic.

With husband working from home – when work has been available – and our two students trying to continue their courses remotely, we are pushing our available internet access to its limit. Add to this the gaming my sons enjoy and we are regularly frustrated by lack of bandwidth. My own use is largely browsing so I am affected less than the rest of my family. I have long avoided activities that require a better connection.

I have no wish to: Skype, Facetime, Zoom, WattsApp video call. I don’t even enjoy voice calls as I too often find myself talking over the person on the other end of the line. Real time communications remove my ability to consider and edit. I have in the past regretted words written. They have caused me less anxiety than my regret at words spoken clumsily.

Social media, carefully managed, is my friend. I choose not to watch the small video clips posted or even play attached GIFs. I do not click on YouTube links and have no interest in vlogs. Podcasts are rarely listened to despite what could be interesting content. I enjoyed certain podcasts when in the gym going nowhere on cardio machines. With that option currently removed, the podcasts I subscribe to are piling up unheard. What I want is to read – articles, interviews, book reviews. And, of course, my books.

When exercising outside over the past few weeks I have been listening to: birdsong, the wind in the trees, lambs bleating, the sounds of my surrounds. I watch the changing view as I pass – nature unfolding. I feel no need of further distraction. Unlike many I don’t  listen to music when I run. In these changed times I have found I am rarely in the mood for music even when at home. It would seem I require an element of mental relaxation – not currently available – to enjoy such a soundtrack.

So forgive me if I do not get excited by the measures being taken to put people live on line. I know many are enjoying this content – a good thing but not for me. My glitchy connectivity adds a layer of irritation I choose to avoid despite missing out on many interesting conversations. I am storing away links to those who put an audio recording of their videos in a podcast (thank you Influx Press) for future days when we are granted access to gyms.

I do wonder, when the option is returned to us, how many will choose to: move their exercise regime indoors, attend events with strangers, travel on crowded transport if not necessary for work. Will the process of going on holiday feel too much of a risk for some? Will cinema and theatre find audiences willing to sit for long periods in enclosed spaces? For those comfortable with digital communication and with access to a reliable internet connection, will they still choose to work from home?

Some are missing the camaraderie of their working environment. I read on social media that many are missing contact with wider family. Perhaps the move to freedom will be as swift as the move to lockdown proved. Such a thought seems to anger a vociferous and frustrated online community.

I will miss: the lightly traffic’d roads, the sight of families out walking together locally, other runners pounding tarmac as we pass at a distance, the deep blue skies due to lack of contrails. I will not miss: the growing concern over ongoing income, the challenges young people are facing as they cope with online learning and exams, the fracture in society as views on necessary steps differ.

Let me just park here that, of course, I recognise and acknowledge my many privileges, including: a garden, food in my fridge, unpopulated space to roam. I have though been personally affected by the deaths of close family members. It is not my intention to downplay what is happening.

Although worried by many aspects of our situation – including the increased police powers – I can manage remote living and poor connectivity as it has long been my normal. Social events are a rarity in my calendar.

For those whose lives have been radically altered by recent diktats and whose income – current and potential – has been decimated, the scars they will carry forward are as much a concern as this plague.

Friendship in a virtual world

social-media-students

I have a presence on a large number of social media sites. My use of them depends largely on who I know on each one, my interactions and relationships with followers. The majority of my socialising happens on line and I employ few filters. Where others fear for their privacy I see little of interest in my life to hide. I feel no need to present the world with anything other than what I am.

As a teenager I was an avid letter writer, and when electronic communication became possible I embraced it. From packaged messages sent across linked mainframes, through to email and instant text messaging, I welcomed the opportunity to contact distant friends without having to pick up a phone. I have always felt more comfortable with written rather than spoken words.

I joined Friends Reunited and then Facebook. I reconnected with friends I had not been in regular touch with for over twenty years, able once again to keep up with the aspects of their everyday lives that they were willing to share. More local friends were putting details of their social lives on line and I felt better acquainted with them than I had previously managed through our occasional, passing conversations. I could only see what they chose to post, but such filters exist in any social space.

I use Pinterest as a type of openly available filing cabinet for my thoughts on books and films; Goodreads allows me to connect with other readers and share detailed book reviews and recommendations; Tumblr I browse more than I post, using it for entertainment rather than for any personal connection; Google+ I am still getting to grips with. I use each of these sites irregularly, for specific purposes that I have tailored to suit me.

More recently I have started to use Twitter a great deal, linking up with other writers around the world as well as following those who can keep me abreast of news that is not widely reported in the mainstream media. Twitter has a fast moving news feed that is not always reliable, but is currently one of my favourite sites as it allows comment that has not been filtered as ‘suitable’ for general consumption. In many ways I feel it gives me a window on the world, with the caveat that I can only see it through the eyes of those I choose to connect with.

Facebook is now falling out of favour. I get that it needs to make money to survive, but the personal touch is being drowned out by commercial interests. Whereas I am comfortable sharing, many of my family and friends distrust the way it uses our personal data. If less is shared the site’s purpose and attraction are diminished. As Facebook is my means of linking with people I know personally, those I may still connect with in the outernet, I will not be leaving it any time soon. The pleasure gained from it’s earlier incarnations though has been tarnished.

I do wonder about what I share on the various sites. I put up links to news articles that interest me with no idea if they will be of interest to anyone else. I amuse myself with occasional Buzzfeed type quizzes and share results, aware that some will see this as irritating clutter on their newsfeeds. I promote my writing to an audience that may have no interest whatsoever in the stories that I create.

My on line space is my own and I will use it in a way that suits me. Followers can always unfollow, friends can unfriend or choose to hide what I post. There is though the fear of causing offence by rejection. I feel hugged when I see my stats rise, question the worth of my posts when the numbers fall. Particularly with my writing, the links that I regularly tweet, I worry that my self promotion irritates.

My on line life is time consuming but is now my main link to the world outside my home. Alongside the life I have led and the books that I read, it provides inspiration for my stories. The writers I connect with encourage me to continue, read what I write, and help me gauge what has worked and what has not. I value the feedback I receive from all quarters.

I am not always so good at responses. Particularly on my blogs I am delighted when readers take the time to comment, yet I struggle to talk back to these generous souls. It would seem that conversations on line come no more naturally to me than face to face. I feel awkward and tongue tied, worried that what I write will not be read in the way that I mean.

When I hear social media derided I feel saddened as it has enriched my life despite it’s challenges and limitations. I understand that, particularly amongst young people who may be judged in the future for information they post now, prudence may be wise. For me though it offers a chance to connect on my terms. I can pick up a computer at a time that suits me, set it down if my attention is required elsewhere. Unlike a phone call demanding immediate attention with it’s shrill ringtone, my on line life need not intrude.

Join me then readers, reach out and connect. Within the confines of my sheltered, virtual world, I would very much like to be your friend.