In so many things at the moment, it feels like a large chunk of life is encapsulated in a small slice of the everyday. And so yesterday…
Yesterday we went to buy a wifi dongle so we could get online. After a lot of Italian (fairly little of which I understood!) we got the picture that, for the first time in more years than we could remember, we would not have unlimited internet but instead a set amount of data only. We’ll have enough to work, to email, to look up stuff on the web and more, but apparently Facebook sucks up loads and long videos are a blackhole that’ll take you quickly to your limit.
A small thing, you might think. And I did too initially. But as we talked with our friends who’ve lived here for a while on rationed internet, and the more I reflected on it, it’s a fundamental change.
Initially I felt scared by the limitation. We’ve been too busy travelling, eating, talking to people and looking at beautiful real-life views for me to get on Netflix the past ten days — but what if I wanted to? What if I needed to watch some TV or a movie? Aaaaagh!
As we talked it through more though, I started to feel this could be a good thing, it reminded me of some under-the-surface niggles and regrets about how I had been living in London with unlimited time online.
I’m guessing you already know what I’m talking about: the videos that autoplay in your Facebook feed you can’t help watching but can’t remember five minutes later; endlessly checking email, social media, the online news; just wanting to consume something. It’s digital junk food that temporarily sates but never (ful)fills you. We have an online obesity epidemic that we talk about far too rarely. Between phones, computers and TVs, we’re too glued to our screens and we’re sat down most of the day and evening and it’s killing us.
It’s playing a part in killing real world connection and community too. Back home, if I wanted to know where to buy something or where to eat I would often look online. Sometimes I’d get great restaurant recommendations from friends, but frequently I’d reach for my phone to look things up, even though the crowd’s recommendations can be pretty patchy or at least bland. Even when they’re good, they become a replacement for talking to neighbours or strangers in the place where you live.
I certainly wouldn’t have dreamt of asking the person serving me in a mobile phone shop to recommend a good pizzeria, but that’s what we did last night — which was brilliantly fun as the staff argued good humouredly over which one was better. I don’t think it’s just me: there’s the positive in it, but I feel collectively we’ve cultivated an ‘overbelief’ in the good of technology.
When we do talk about addressing some of these problems, it’s most often about personal action – “have a digital detox” – rather than doing anything serious about it. Online access is usually talked about as something that should only be increased (and I agree we should do something to level up the inequalities for people who have no or little access) but shouldn’t we set limits too?
If we’re considering a sugar tax, why not a bytes tax? Alcohol has a recommended number of units per week and you can’t legally get it under a certain age, should broadband too?
But back to the here and now.
The universe (or at least the Italian mobile data provider universe) has provided me with my own boundaries for this. And it got me thinking about what I want more or less of in my life now. At a time when we’re changing so much with this big life move, it feels like a good time to look at it.
Life can often feel like I’m blowing in the breeze of what happens, and to some extent that’s the thrill of it. But the image also came to me of a recording studio, with the long row of sliders on the mixing desk — in our own lives we are both the performer in the booth and the producer behind this desk, able to mix and shape our song by pushing these sliders, bring up or down what we choose.
What do I want more and less of? Here are the biggest things that strike me right now (I’m sure you’ll have some great ones of your own!):
More fun and laughter, less ‘meh’
More wild, less tame
More nature, less city
More in my body, less in my head
More outside, less in
More love, less ‘like’
More music and more dancing
More peace and more raucous
More amazing, delicious, healthy food that lights me up from the inside, less crappy-but-I’m-hungry-filler
More community, less disconnection
More ‘fuck yeah why not!’, less avoiding things because they’re outside my comfort zone
More freeform anything-goes time, less work
More friends, less strangers
More community, less disconnection
More looking after myself, less I-have-to-even-though-it’s-not-what-I-really-want
And yes: More real world, less online
Like New Year’s resolutions on the evening of 31st December with a couple of glasses of wine inside you, these are of course easy to say and harder to do in practice. With choices come challenges too.
Some of those challenges for me are about opening myself up to others: I’m used to living in a depersonalised city. I love it but it challenges me (and not just because of my very basic Italian!) when you say hello to every person you pass in the local village, when every visit to a bar, a shop or a restaurant becomes a conversation. Part of me likes hiding in my shell — here they want to see my oyster’s pearl.
Some of it’s about feeling like a novice on the first day of school. We were cooked an amazing meal with other day with foraged food and I’d love to get into finding and feeding on gorgeous wild plants that grow here. Fennel, rosemary, asparagus are just a few that I’ve seen here so far — there’s a book on the table near me half an inch thick with wild, edible plantlife from this region. But I know next to nothing about them! If I thought my Italian was bad, nature – really knowing it, not just smiling at a nice view – feels like such a deep unknown. It’s a language I ache to learn yet I’m starting on the bottom rung. There’s something deep-down crazy about having so little fluency in it despite nearly 37 years on this earth, and becoming aware of this is challenging in its own right.
But I do feel more of the more is possible (and less of the less).
A lot of it’s about habit, taking things one step at a time. We’re in the first flush of a new life when things can be rosier, keeping going down the paths we want and making good habits is a big part of making real changes.
Looking forward to the journey…!