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Less for more

January 7, 2010

I love the snow this year.

I can see why people get irritated with it; I’ll admit I’m far more in favour of it now I don’t have to crawl a seven mile bus journey for two hours every morning at the first hint of frost, but it still makes me laugh how this country as a whole reacts to it. The news coverage is nothing short of hysterical; you’d think Armageddon was upon us. The coldest winter since 1981! People forced to postpone non-essential trips for whole days on end. People having to walk a little more carefully because – oh outrage – the council hadn’t managed to instantaneously grit every single stretch of backwater pavement by morning. Multiple car pile-ups and a child nearly hit (probably the most excitement she’ll ever get in her life) in a suburban cul-de-sac, not because of the snow but because the idiots driving the cars couldn’t stay off the road for a couple of days. The media is treating it like it’s some kind of shock that it’s snowing in winter in Britain; you’d think from their reaction that it was the first time it’s ever happened and that nothing will ever be so terrible again and yet they do this every year.

I think the snow will do people good, I’m just sorry it’s only for a few days. It has, in a small way, shaken things up, thrown something different into the mix, made people (in a small way) not take things for granted for a little while.

This morning I walked to work in the ice again. The sun had just come up over the new building on the Courts roundabout and it’s this big, ugly glass doughnut of an office block, but every window was a silver mirror of this sky that went from delicate pink at the horizon through sugar-lemon yellow to the palest blue, and right above the roof framed in the silhouette of bare tree branches was this precise, white half-moon like a chip of ice in a powder-blue sky and everything was brittle pink and white and it was so beautiful and my first thought was ‘I wish I had my camera’. But that’s the problem. I could have got out my mobile phone and taken a snap that wouldn’t have captured the real atmosphere of the moment and would have only ever then been a disappointment. All this technology is just fading everyone’s memories – there’s no need to remember moments anymore because there’s a photograph of it filed away on a computer somewhere photo or it never happened. Nothing is ephemeral in the same way as it used to be and it’s spoiling yet another bit of magic.

I think this is the problem with modern life.

It’s strange, because I’m not old, not even middle aged yet but the changes I’ve seen in my lifetime over just the past ten years are frightening. I’m sure every generation feels the same way, only I’m equally sure that things have never accelerated at such a pace before either. I think it’s due to the advent of mobile phones and the internet. Things have become so accessible that everyone gets what they want immediately and it devalues things – material possessions, achievements, relationships. The more you have, the more you want, everyone is eternally unsatisfied, constantly disappointed, filled with cravings they can’t fulfil and it’s very difficult once this progress has been put into gear to derail it.

Because yes, I do admit that it is progress – as much as these advances have damaged us, they’ve also enriched our lives in different ways – but I’m sure nobody realised at first how double-edged they would be. The BBC ran a story today about wartime food rationing. A terrible privation, yet at the same time how wonderful a concept of certain foods being so rare that to get hold of some would be a fantastic treat. The more we have, the more our enjoyment is diluted. The more choices we have, the more pressure is put upon us. Children (born after 1986, I read recently, did not have a proper childhood – I quite agree) are growing up not knowing anything different. In a stressful existence filled up with i-phones and online social networking and designer labels there is genuinely no room anymore for fairytales, and it’s not their fault. I can’t remember what it’s like to have an afternoon with nothing more pressing to do than kick a ball around in a field, so they have no chance; it’s one thing to Tweet your every adventure as it happens, but to actually do these things you’re documenting you have to first put down the Blackberry.

I remember how it felt to discover a brilliant new band, before the days of Youtube and freeview music channels. I remember how difficult it was to track down their album, a vast undertaking of asking around and researching and getting the bus to a music shop big enough to place an order for the CD in question, budgeting your savings in order to afford it. I remember the feeling of achievement when the long-anticipated album finally arrived and was listened to in groups and passed around to friends because nobody bought more than a couple of discs a month or else you wouldn’t be able to afford to go out on a Friday night with your mates.
This is barely fifteen years ago. Now, I can find any track with a few clicks of a mouse and, if I chose, download it for free with minimum fuss and minimum satisfaction. We are a disposable society. And I am a materialist, far from what I’d call spiritual, nothing like a hippy, so if even I’m recognising that we need to have less and dream more, then it’s time to start trying again.

Appreciate the small things. Everything counts. Every snowball you throw and every breath you take is a big deal.

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