Ease of use is one thing, ease of access is quite another. It’s not that I have anything against this modern technology, with the idea of being instantly in touch with people, no matter where they are, at all times of the day and night, it’s just that it really cannot work that way. We all have out particular routines, we all have a certain hoped for private sphere which we guard as best we can; all of these, out here, are under threat as more and more people succumb to the offers and bargains from telecommunications giants, and the belief, false in my mind, that you can only keep real friendships going, only be a member of society and social, when you are constantly active on one or more of the social media networks, and when you respond to the beeps and pings of your smart phone within a few moments of hearing them. If you do not, and there are those who keep a very close eye on reaction times, you stand a good chance of losing friends – although I doubt personally that these were ever friends, merely followers using you as a number to bolster their own theoretical popularity.
So when you write, as you did in your electronic message, that things will now be a whole lot easier, I am in two minds about it. On the one hand, yes, things are considerably quicker if it is speed that you are seeking. On the other, the speed is not a necessity for a good and wholesome conversation; thought and the right words and actions are. I am, however, more than willing to compromise when it comes to these technological advances, because I do appreciate that they make life easier for some to a certain extent, or appear to do so. You will notice, however, that the act of having to constantly sign in to your account if you manage to gain access to a kiosk, is a time factor which has to be included in your assessment of what is easier and what is not. I, being an old-fashioned letter writer, merely need to seek out a table and chair, pull out writing implements, and everything is there that I need. Seal what I have written in an envelope, stamp it and place it in the next yellow post receptacle of which, surprisingly enough, there are still many, even in this small town. I can write wherever I am, and do not need a terminal or access to any networks.
And with the speed, that is a thing too: everyone needs time for themselves, to recuperate, to think, to experience what we have in life, no matter how restrictive it may appear to be. I see all these thousands of people wandering the streets of this town and every major city that I visit, staring at their small screens, scrolling up and down with their thumbs, typing with forefingers as fast as they can. I do not see them looking up and enjoying the sights, or the weather, or even holding a long and satisfying conversation with the other people around them. There is very little that is social in what they do, or so it appears to me. But those are my feelings, although I am not alone, and not everyone necessarily agrees with me. So I am more than happy to receive an electronic message rather than a written letter, I can, after all, print it out and have the full benefit of a solid copy in my hands at any time I wish, but I will remain by my old-fashioned ways and reply to these electronic messages with a real paper and post letter. There are advantages for both of us: I have time to think, to travel to gather experiences I might write about in the future, and you have a copy that you can keep, rather than a file saved in a very limited amount of space either on a web site or a small gadget subject to the whims of nature and the powers of a good battery. Aside from the advantage of being able to keep letters for a much longer length of time – it is surprising how quickly a limited number can be reached – there is also the benefit of having a hard copy of photographs or cards sent to you as, I believe, you do not have the facilities to print, so that you can at least throw darts at them when something annoys you.
So, yes, our communications are still going to be as slow as if we were both writing letters and waiting for the post to deliver them, but that has many advantages which far outweigh the disadvantages, or what I see as disadvantages; you may well disagree with me, but I do not doubt for a moment that you do not understand my reasoning.
I absolutely love office politics: the scene that you describe with the fan on a blistering hot day reminds me of many situations I have been in, and I can almost smell the sweat dripping down as if I was there once again. Isn’t it wonderful to have someone who feels that they have to order everyone else about? That little bit of perceived power rather than working together with everyone probably does more to kill the atmosphere, to damage working relations than anything else. And then, of course, the quality of the work suffers as a result, and it’s no longer a case of someone staying behind because they want to look good, to gain plus points, they do themselves no favours at all. Of course, my love of office politics is from the outside, I have no intention of ever – if at all possible – going back to that state again. Even worse, I do appreciate, when you also have to spend all your leisure time with the same people too: I had it during my military service, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to that; the military and all I managed to see and do in those years, yes, most certainly, but not the constraints.
Admittedly I was able to get out, my military time was not confined to barracks twenty-four seven, I had a great deal of freedom. I suspect I saw more of the cultural side of London in the moths I was stationed in Aldershot, outside the capital city but within easy reach, as I did in the five years that I worked in Knightsbridge. Perhaps it was a case of appreciating what I’d had once it was gone – although not quite gone in my case, merely further away – a little like when we reflect on our past and imagine that everything was so much better, and even want to go back to those days, those places, those people. A discussion I had with someone else recently, on going back to visit childhood memories: I would never do it, as the visit would wipe out what I had preserved over so many years. Places, and people, change constantly, and that which we remember is not the same as that which we would find if we revisited. I know for a fact that the area I lived in during my youth in London has changed immensely, so I would rather remember it as the place of my childhood, and not lose those happier memories by the reality of today.
And you know that it is also a very wise saying: never have an intimate relationship with office colleagues, which goes much further than that. I was quite happy, during my time working in London, to go out and have the occasional beer or a glass of wine with a few select work colleagues, but not too often. It was enough to work with them and have to live behind a facade in order not to step on anyone’s toes during the workday; straining myself to keep this appearance up and going for a few hours after the day had officially ended would have been a step too much. Aside from which, my interests were completely different to theirs: I was fascinated by art and classical music, where they wanted to hit the local public houses and drink a barrel of beer dry if possible. I tended more towards small, out-of-the-way establishments where I could buy a good glass of Tawny Port or a high quality red wine and read my book, rather than worry about someone knocking the head off my pint of ale as I struggled to get back to an overcrowded table in some dark corner of a smoke-filled bar. And while I was interested in the books we sold – I worked in the book department of Harrods for many years – and read many with great pleasure, I wasn’t in the mood after a full day’s work to discuss the intricacies of the latest pulp fiction bestseller.
I know a little about heat too, having been in a few countries where heat is the main thing of the day, and life begins when the sun goes down. Surprisingly, perhaps, one of these countries was not Saudi Arabia, as many might expect, and which was exceptionally cold when I was there, but Cyprus, also a land known for its beauty and warmth. My only regret is that I spent barely one month there before having to move on, doing a parachuting course for three days, with twenty-six days for acclimatisation and leisure; we certainly had a hard life back then. I got to know the meaning of heat quite early in my visit, out running on a hash harriers course – following temporary markers which were laid out erratically across a long course with obstacles, dead-ends and much more – when the sun, which I hardly felt at all, played its tricks and burned my legs to a crisp. Lying down to sleep that night was easy enough, until something touch my legs, even the lightest of substances. I think I must have looked like a British pillar or telephone box from the edge of my shorts downwards. I was, of course, the object of much fun from everyone else there, but didn’t let it ruin my time and, on many occasions during that month, had occasion to just stand back and laugh at someone else who had been foolish ion one way or another.
One of the main problems for the others was their belief that plenty of liquid would help them get through the day, and they would take that liquid at night, in the bar, in the form of Carlsberg beer. I did what I always do, went out and found a local bar and mixed in with the Cypriots and the Greeks – the Turkish occupation forces, as we knew them to be then, were on the other side of the island – and drank brandy sour all evening, without any ill effects. I am sure you can imagine how my colleagues felt following their beer drinking exploits: dehydrated and with pounding headaches which brought new meaning to the state of being hung over. My crimson legs were soon forgotten amongst the wealth of other stories which followed, as some found themselves unable to move, or vomiting during the most basic periods of exercise: not necessarily something you wanted to know, I am sure, and something they would never wish to be reminded of.
Being able to remove myself from the company of those I worked with also led to much less stress, as far as I was concerned. I could relax after a day’s work – which was often just lazing around, in Cyprus at least, or doing physical exercise – and do my own thing without the stress and strain of exactly the same faces about me all the time. I think that must be the worst part of incarceration, whether voluntarily as with the military, or otherwise: your inability to remove yourself completely from everything surrounding you. In my school days, also a form of incarceration as I was in a boarding school, hundreds of miles from home, I could walk off the premises – whether it was allowed or not make little difference to me at the time – and just wander across the nearby heath land – the Yorkshire Moors were a mere mile away from the village, and a very popular tourist point for those wishing to find somewhere isolated but beautiful – without fear of being caught or interrupted. After a while the school authorities gave up trying to pen me in, and merely insisted I say roughly in which direction I planned on wandering, and when I would be back. A chance not open to all, but the only way I had of clearing my mind and escaping the oppression of an educational system which failed to instil the basics of knowledge into its students, and failed exceptionally well at that. My education came after I had done all the required examination and moved back to London society, out of the system. We learn better from that which is around us when we are not forced to learn, than when things are pushed into our minds as fast as is humanly possible. The pleasure of learning brings considerably more than compulsion.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I rebel against modern technology so hard: it has become a compulsion to be up-to-date, to catch the latest word, to be the one with the newest model or, better, not the one with an older version. We – although I am not including myself in this, despite having much of the technology I am so against – are compelled to purchase, to upgrade, to be constantly on top of fashion, and for no real good at all. There are complaints about information overload, about the lack of attention span in many of the younger generation, which is a complaint that has been doing the rounds for decades. At the end of it all everyone complains that they do not have enough time to do all the things they should be doing, let alone those that they want to be doing, until you take their smart phone away from them. Then, all of sudden, people simply do not know what to do with their time.
But I do: we should sit down and write a letter to someone, absolutely anyone, and really concentrate all of our thoughts into filling two sheets of paper, then see what we have in our lives and what we could have. We should talk to one another in person and walk through the streets looking at what is around us. We should try and live our lives, rather than existing and then, in fifty or sixty years time, looking up and asking what we missed.