How do you live a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, many, many miles away from the city and yet feel totally connected to the rest of the world?
How do you keep a sense of what is happening in the world-at-large when your own interests and activities diverge widely from the mainstream of your own culture?
How do you keep tabs on world – and national – events yet not become swamped by despair at much of what you read? Buddhist teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh warns that we should avoid over-consumption of ‘bad news’ and stories of war, violence and environmental destruction because it tends to weaken and disempower us. We know the bad stuff is happening; no need to wallow in the details. Better to save our energy for working on the solutions than to keep reading more and more about the problems.
How do you stay au fait with mainstream culture when your favourite magazines etc. are all ‘alternative’ ones?
These are questions that are important to me. So when Ronni, at 'Time Goes By' suggested on Monday morning that we all follow her lead and talk about how we get our info, I thought it would be interesting to join in the discussion.
I really related to Ronni’s comment that she reads a lot of news because "It’s not just information about what goes on the world I’m after, but a sense of the zeitgeist, of what the culture concerns itself with." That’s important to me too. Not just because I am a writer but because I remain really interested in all of that stuff. And it is becoming increasingly important as I get older and less 'out there' in the world in a physical way.
The older one gets, the more longitudinal is one’s view. I find it fascinating to be able to look back as far as the 1940s and track all the various changes that have taken place in my own liefetime. Also, the more parlous our planetary situation becomes, and the closer we come to the edge of the cliff, the more I feel the need to tune in – usually in the hope that I’ll discern signs of positive change.
So what are our preferred ways of getting all this information? Here’s my own list:
Web:I have Google Alerts on topics that are of special interest to me, particularly aging and simple living. It is fascinating to see where these take me to each day – blogs I would never have discovered otherwise, articles I would never have read in newspapers and journals I’ve never even heard of.
For mainstream media, I subscribe to the headline service for the New York Times and The Independent (UK) and I also check the main news stories on the BBC and The Guardian each day.
For alternative media I subscribe to Alternet and Grist. (Plus Dahr Jamail’s 'Iraq Despatches' though I can’t always face reading them).
Then there’s a whole bunch of e-zines and newsletters that come via e-mail, particularly writing-related and environmental ones.
Music: I love to dwell amidst silence and birdsong so I only listen to music when I go to a concert. Or very occasionally – about once every couple of months – I play a CD. If I listen to music I do just that and only that. I like to sing and drum though, so most of the music I hear is DIY.
As for TV, we haven’t had TV in our house for over twenty years and don’t ever plan on getting one. I hate TV. It trivialises important things, sensationalises unimportant things and turns people into zombies. No, I don’t even want to watch the wildlife programs. I like to go out into the woods and fields each day and be with the wildlife here, now, in real time.
Communications:I read e-mail on my Web host’s mail server and only download whatever needs answering. I have a Gmail account too, but rarely use it. Have a landline phone but no mobile. Yes, cell phones are useful gadgets (and my beloved son-in-law owes his life to one) but I detest the thought that people can interrupt me wherever I am. (And I suspect the radiation is unhealthy).
I subscribe to a Swiss phone company that gives me the ability to make calls to the US from England at a mere half a penny per minute. Rather than being tied to my computer, as I would be with Skype, it means I can take the phone all over the house (important when one is sharing a small space with a partner who may be trying to work or read a book).
Movies:Since we live in the depths of the countryside and don’t have a car, I rarely see movies. And movie theatres are uncomfortable places for me nowadays because I’ve noticed that they turn the sound up much louder than they used to. But when I visit my daughter, she rents DVDs or videos of movies I have said I’d like to watch and we watch them together. (I could watch them on my computer, but I figure that I spend quite enough time sitting there already).
Magazines:I subscribe to The Ecologist, New Internationalist, Vegetarian Times, Writers News and Mslexia and all the myriad organizations I belong to have their own magazines also so there’s always a huge pile of magazines and journals next to my armchair.
Newspapers I never buy, and even the local freebie doesn’t get read. It goes straight into the compost. Printers’ ink makes my eyes itch.
Books:I get a lot of books to review and I also borrow books from the library so there’s always a ‘to-be-read’ pile. There’s also a ‘part-read’ pile. I like having several books on the go at once – usually one novel and several non-fiction books about different subjects – so that my reading can suit my mood and energy level.
So that is how I live a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, many, many miles away from the city and yet feel connected to the rest of the world. Well … perhaps not totally connected. Without TV, there is another whole layer of the world that I don’t tap into. But that’s a layer I prefer to live without. And maybe it’s as well that some of us remain outside that layer. On a ship full of sleeping passengers it's good to have a few people on watch.