It matters little how we got to this place, but I think we need to take a step back. We sit, staring at our phones, pulling down to refresh in the hope that some life-affirming news will appear in our social media feed.
When times are bad, we scroll. When times are good, we scroll. Meanwhile, our finite number of hours on this planet whiz past and we’re never going to get them back.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I straddle two generations, a cusper if you will, and share the traits of both gen-x and millennial. I remember the simple pleasures of taking a trip into town with my pocket money to buy an album on tape or CD. I remember going to Ritz (which became Blockbuster) to rent a movie at the weekend.
I remember being able to see a movie in the cinema for £2.50 and back then they were still pretty good movies. I went to the cinema a lot, yet I still remember most of those those trips. Back then we had two cinemas on Queen Street, plus the Capital Odeon (now the Premier).
I remember riding my bike around the woods where I grew up; or kicking my rugby ball over any posts or fence I could find for hours and hours, often until it went dark. They’re things that required my attention and for me to be present.
However, I do remember how exciting it was to get onto the internet for the first time. It was dial-up back then, so spending time on the internet also meant spending money as well –you were billed by the minute and the phone line was tied up while you were connected. These were the days before Google. Lycos was the search engine of choice, but much of what you would find on there were basic HTML pages that people coded themselves – including some created by me.
It was much later, when faster connections and smartphones arrived that things started to get a bit weird.
A double-edged sword
Now, don’t get me wrong, advancing technology has certainly had its benefits. It has made it easier for writers, artists and creative people from all walks of life to find their voice, but much of the internet we once knew has consolidated into a handful of platforms, designed with the same motivations that have long driven casinos and betting shops –to hook you in and keep you just dissatisfied enough to keep playing.
Lately I’ve been rediscovering some of the simple pleasures that defined my formative years. I’ve been buying CDs again, listening to them on a CD player whilst reading the inlay card and enjoying the artwork. Whilst I never really got into vinyl, I can see why people have been buying them again –there’s a lot to be said for the experience of searching, admiring the artwork and actually sitting down to listen properly.
There were bands that I’d listen to growing up that didn’t stick around for very long. Their music has long disappeared from the record shops and never made it onto streaming services. Once you have an album in your hands, it’s yours. It can’t be deleted from your collection when you’re not looking (Type O Negative’s “Dead Again”, I’m looking at you) and it’ll be there when the mood strikes you years into the future.
Yet the object, whether it is a piece of recorded music, a physical book or something else entirely, is less important than the experience behind it. As humans we need to experience things, to make things, to do things that keep us present and in the moment.
In the not-too-distant future the music we listen to, the movies we watch may solely be via a subscription service, geared towards that which has mass appeal and offers little to those with tastes that diverge from the mainstream –rather like terrestrial TV and radio does today (and has always done). However, whilst I was never going to hear a new Pantera song on the radio, I still had the option to buy the CD and listen to it whenever I wanted to.
Sooner or later, the drivers among you are going to be finding yourself in cars that don’t really need you –you’ll not even have the “joy” of driving that you’ll pay so handsomely for. Just another subscription service to pay for each month without really thinking about. You won’t remember the cars that you’ve had any more than you remember the washing machines you’ve had, because you never really connected with them in the first place.
This brings us onto the bicycle. It is and has always been a distinctly analogue experience. You feel every turn of the pedals; you feel every bump in the road. You experience the world going by at a speed slow enough to take it all in and, contrary to popular belief, your bicycle really does work without Strava. You can just ride for the pleasure of riding. You don’t need to smash segments; you don’t need to Instagram a photo of your bike next to a tree somewhere. You’ll know you were there because well, you were there. Your bicycle works without an internet connection, it isn’t going to stop working if the server falls over and you’ll never be told that your bicycle is out of warranty and you need to buy a new one.
Humans have become very good at removing effort from our lives and replacing it with convenience, but it’s the effort that we remember and the convenience will always be unfulfilling. It’s the meals we cook from scratch; the art we create with our hands; the rooms we decorate ourselves; the punctures we repair and the places we get to under your own steam. It’s the effort that makes periods in our lives stand out from the humdrum of everything else.