I am trying to reconnect gently. From Monday to Saturday morning I was living in an unconnected world: no wifi, no television, no radio and only sufficient mobile signal for the odd grudging text message, with no guarantee of reply. Air silence.
I was at an Arvon course at The Hurst in Shropshire, spending a week with fifteen others and two tutors immersed in creative non-fiction. I'm still processing that experience and may write about it sometime but right now I am just considering how it was to drop out of the digital world for a few days.
I hadn't noticed the "no wifi" when I booked to go on the course. Checking what I needed as I packed last week I saw it: no wifi, poor mobile signal, payphone in the hall. My heart sank. I like my connectedness. Email produces mostly selling these days but every now and then there is something interesting with news or photos from friends or family. Facebook is much the same. I don't post very often myself and my daily checks are swift but I do like seeing pictures of friends' babies and walking holidays and having a loose sense of what is happening in their lives. I love Instagram with its ease and simplicity and succession of snapshots of other people's lives and of course it is a rare week when I don't read at least a couple of the blogs I really like. And over and above all that there is the sheer usefulness of the damn thing: news, research, instant answers, phone numbers, opening hours, weather forecasts. How would I manage without it all? Was it really necessary to abandon it? Apparently so.
And a bit of me was curious to see what it would be like. I have wondered sometimes as Ian and I sit by the fire, ipads on our laps, how much time we spend online. Not a problem, I would have said. We talk and walk and read and knit and garden and spend time with friends and our children and grandchildren. It is only a part of life, but an everyday part. As much a part of our routine as cooking and shopping and brushing our teeth.
Turns out that whether you miss it all depends. The days were so full with workshops and tutorials and writing exercises and writing time that I missed the social media stuff not at all. Indeed I couldn't have spent any time engaging with social media and also done all the other things I was trying to do.
At home I am a news junkie, likely to listen to the radio or watch the news at least twice a day. For most of my life I have been interested in politics and current affairs. I usually have a week or two off when we go on holiday and I expected this break from tv, radio and newspapers to be just like that. It's normally good to have a break but after a few days I begin to feel out of touch and I return to my normal news diet refreshed and keen to get engaged again.
Perhaps it was the timing of this break that was different. After the shock of the UK referendum vote and the sense of chaos that overtook UK political life, I was punch drunk with news, reeling, sickened with it. Being without it seemed to free my head to think about other things and to give me a respite from being battered by matters of huge importance about which I could do nothing. I did feel a leap of guilt on coming out on Saturday and learning of the deaths in Nice, realising that I had not known. Why guilt? I do not know. It was as if in not knowing I was not caring. That is a response which makes no rational sense but clearly demonstrates why I normally follow so avidly. But a period without news and the analysis of news was oddly calming.
And all of the other facts and research and usefulness? I didn't notice their absence at all. Admittedly I was not living my normal life. I was mining myself for what to write about.
So the only thing I really missed was talking to people, especially Ian who is away trekking in Norway and not very easily contactable at his end either. It made me realise how much I use talking to him and to one or two others as a way of examining what is happening to me and making sense of it, the very process of expressing myself to someone who knows me intimately and with whom I don't have to censor myself helping me to understand what I am thinking and feeling.
As I drove home I turned on the radio to listen to the news. Over the last day or so I have caught up with emails and social media. No desire at all to remain in purdah. It has been good to get back in some ways and tonight I shall turn off my brain and gently watch Countryfile on the TV and that will be a relief and a rest after such intensity and hard work.
I don't suppose I learnt anything from the experience that I didn't sort of know already: social media takes up a lot of time; television does the same; watching the news can do your head in. But it has been a very clear and concrete lesson. If I want time for writing I can clearly make it by spending less time online and watching TV. Listening to and, particularly, watching the news can oppress you, especially in times of great turmoil. Talking to the people you love is a wonderful thing.