WORDS by Andrew Bock // PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN by Gary Parker
Life in the city is a lot like, just a minute while I check my emails, a sentence begun, won’t be a second I just have to reply to this SMS, but before that sentence is finished, wow check this website, you no longer know, I wonder what’s happening on Facebook, why you started writing it in the first place.
Computers are like traffic networks and supermarkets. They are supposed to make things easier but everything takes longer. That’s partly because all users of anything online are now working for company computer systems. And like busy librarians, we are filing as much as we are producing.
In the digital city, all tasks fragment into multiple tasks that require an element of administration. Nature evolves in fractal patterns but the digital world works in binary, intermittent currents. Square architectures of stop and start and pause and start up and log on and turn off and shut down and shut up.
Whether phone and wifi radiation directly affect our health or not, our bodies now filter electromagnetic radiation as well as air pollution, light pollution and sound pollution in the cities. Telephone, internet and computer use affect our thinking patterns and our eyesight and our weekends.
There are several ways to get offline. One is to turn off or leave behind mobile devices. But somebody always has a phone or a laptop. And most of us now have trouble leaving home without one.
It’s far better to find the places where there is no coverage. Mobile and cellular phone coverage maps are therefore important guides to the digital frontiers.
Developing countries and larger countries like Canada and Australia with large tracts of land outside data range may become more attractive tourist destinations in future.
National parks and reserves are often the last bastions of digital free space in developed countries. Valleys are often oases from the data that screams and streams over the hilltops from tower to tower.
These oases, these digital deserts, may not last. Some commentators forecast personal coverage will become as global as satellite coverage in the next decade or two. So we might want to enjoy data free lands while they last.
Beyond the digital frontiers
There is a physical change when you cross a digital border. When data no longer fills the air and you can no longer connect, there is a tangible relief, an increase in presence and a slowing of time.
Biorhythms change. Especially if you camp without electric light, you prepare to sleep soon after dark and rise with the dawn.
Melatonin, the healing hormone, kicks in an hour after dark. Candles allow melatonin to kick in. Electric light, movies and computer screens all postpone the onset of melatonin.
A few days away from digital schedules, you notice the dawn become more creative because the world is formed anew and sunlight nourishes life.
The second thing you notice is the quiet. The breadth and breath of silence. Where the only sounds are the sounds of the elements. The silence allows you to hear and sense light, sound, wind, sky, scents, animals at once. Your senses become integrated, holistic, symbiotic. And you realise the city has divided our senses much like it controls the distribution of media.
The third thing you notice across the digital border is the importance of people and talk. Talk by people with bodies, not just severed, digital heads. People with stories. Every story becomes more important. For the knowledge, wisdom and wit they bring to the table. Characters grow larger. Song that is sung echoes for days. You realise art has to be created, and participated in, to be enjoyed.
The fourth thing you feel beyond the digital frontier is cleanliness, a growing purity. Nature is clean and cleansing. The digital world is polluted with media and with persuasion. Nature doesn’t persuade. Nature just is.
Perhaps the most delicious thing beyond the border is the increase in presence. Everything becomes more present. Leaves, plants, animals. Humans. And with presence, time slows down. And you realise the cities are full of dead things that need power to be animated.
When you leave nature and cross back over a digital frontier, the first sign of the city is now the ding-ding of an SMS. Every call, SMS and email breaks the stillness and the presence like a chainsaw.
Digital voices crowd in until it is hard to hear inner voices. Higher callings are drowned out by phone calls.
Music becomes digital sound bytes. Light becomes pixelated. Images are formed of RGB grids. Patterns and designs become geometrical. Curved lines are straightened. Stories turn into facts. Words become data. The airwaves are overcrowded and everyone drops in. Paragraphs fragment. Into broken sentences. And broken English. And so much information. That signifies nothing.