Notes from a Luddite

If someone had told you, back in the eighties, when we were tearing around (unsupervised) on our BMX’s, that when we were adults, we’d be addicted to hand-held (incessantly beeping) electronic devices that would connect us to each other 24/7, you’d have scarcely believed it. The words digital detox would have been a tough one to wrap your head around.

And yet I’ve just emerged from a 10 day screen hiatus; it was just the re-jig I needed. It’s not so much that I was spending too much time on social media — more that the constant distraction would derail me from whatever I was doing, or meant to be doing.

After mindlessly scrolling through my feeds, I’d be left feeling unsatiated and no richer for having done it (often I’d feel creepy and stalkerish for checking out the posts of people I scarcely knew, or didn’t know at all – the old-school equivalent of reading someone’s diary).

Facebook feeds can also be discombobulating. Scrolling from hot bods in bikinis, to a horrific crime story; cute faces of babies interspersed with pleas to sign petitions. It’s a melange of news/fake news, exhibitionism, trivia, entertainment, political insights and opinions that can boggle the mind.

Also — and perhaps most importantly — I was setting a very bad example for my kids. Monkey see, monkey do right? There are a glut of studies revealing how technology stunts our kids growth and development; the results are bleak. My boys are still young so I haven’t even begun to navigate the real minefield of technology. I hear it gets trickier, and riskier. Social media, gaming and cyber bullying? Lordy!

Steve Jobs was apparently a low-tech parent; he famously commented that he doesn’t let his kids use iPads. I’ve read many tech engineers are similar, sending their children to tech-free schools and restricting their usage at home. The fact that the inventors of those little tyrants in our pockets give them a wide berth surely gives us pause for thought.

The dialogue around technology’s hold over our lives is not likely to subside — it’s here to stay, so we need to find ways to exist peacefully with it. And of course, screens aren’t all bad. Curling up on a winter’s day watching David Attenborough with my kids — bliss. Listening to my husband and boys scream at the screen during rugby matches? Heartwarming. Flicking on Paw Patrol when I desperately need to send an email or am craving some alone time? Sanity saver. iPads on planes and trains? Only fair on the other passengers. And it’s pretty darn fantastic being able to connect with friends, family and like-minded peeps any time of any day.

My approach these days after my (very productive!) detox — dip in and out, every now and then — don’t hover too long or get sucked in too deep. Keep it sporadic rather than regular. Enjoy the modern miracle that is the interweb, but keep it firmly reigned in.


#not unlike dating

The irony of writing a blog post about the travails of social media is not lost on me. That’s the thing about it – it’s a beast fraught with contradictions. On one hand, it’s power to shape our thinking, give a voice to the voiceless and mobilise people into action is unparalleled. On the other, at the level of the everyday mundane, it’s a lot of meaningless chatter, an incessant buzz.

The online personas people craft may or may not be a true reflection of their real, everyday messy lives. We all get this, yet who can resist a vicarious scroll though the lives of those we’re secretly crushing on. Anyone not had a snoop around the profile of the one who got away, or of the one you’re happy to have gotten away from?  When I lived overseas, I loved seeing snaps of the weddings I’d missed and of friends’ newborns I’d loved to have squeezed in real life.

Social media has always been just that for me – social. Until now, when I started an Instagram account to help grow my blog. Releasing my privacy settings gave me the jitters at first but it got me 7 whole followers. I had 9 a few days ago but I lost two.

The first time a stranger followed me I was super excited and secretly congratulated myself on my clever hashtags. The second time it was as thrilling. But, in a naive attempt to keep it real (we all want to grow our brand organically and authentically right) I thought I’d suss them out, see if I liked their feed and if we seemed compatible,  and if we did, I’d follow them. I thought they’d give me time and space to do this but, within a day, poof! – they’d vanished. Unfollowed. I was back down to 7 followers.

It’s here that I checked in with my wise and hilarious yogi friend who’s generated an impressive Instagram following – she’s been coaching me and giving me titbits.  She told me you have to play the game. So, curious to see if I could woo back my ex-followers after they’d dumped me, I started following them. But they weren’t prepared to forgive my tardiness or dish out second chances, they’d moved on. So I unfollowed them – and I still have 7 followers.

Apparently it’s a thing – people follow you just to get a follow, then unfollow you. And there are bots that generate automatic comments to attract followers – and apps that can track when people unfollow you. It’s a minefield and I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes. Having crossed over from social media as a mindless time waster to a potential marketing tool the goalposts have shifted and I find myself thinking more strategically, more sneakily. What tricks can I learn to bump up my following from a single digit to a double digit number? Can I compromise my morals, be a bit promiscuous and follow new followers without even checking them out? Like or even gush over the posts of complete strangers in the hope they’ll notice me? Have a few more ill-fated flings? I think so.

Social media – we can vilify it, ridicule it, and hypothesise about it’s detrimental effect on the very fabric of our society. But we can’t dismiss it. We can manage it’s intrusion into our lives and of course we can opt out completely, but despite our misgivings, how many of us feel able (or willing) to disconnect from it all. Social media is a platform, it’s a way of communicating a sliver of ourselves, presenting our shiny bits to the world. A place to showcase our professional wares, to broadcast our beliefs. It is, as anthropologists like to say, a construct. Be too much of a purist and it becomes very un-fun. Get hung-up on the authenticity of what people post and you might get jaded. Most of the time it is, essentially, a game, not grounded in reality, and I think we all get that, which is why it can be such fun to play.

My Instagram handle is @backyardanthropologist and I’m on the market.

Kindle or not to kindle?

Reading for me is a tactile experience. You can’t curl up with a screen the way you can with a book or magazine. Scrolling through emails doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies the way poring over old letters does.

Books age well. They get thumbed, dog-eared, underlined, and sometimes defaced. They lose their covers (my pet book peeve). Letters fade and turn yellow, magazines get crumpled and tattooed with coffee rings. Kindles? Well, you can adjust the brightness and the font size, but screens are just screens – cold and inert.

The first few books I bought for my kids, I was torn over whether to scrawl their names on the inside – writing in books still feels a little like sacrilege. Now I love doing it. In a generation or two, their favourite childhood tales might end up on a second-hand bookshop shelf, in a place far removed from their current lives. The new owners might notice it, and wonder, even if for just a mili second, who Samuel and Noah Nicholson were.

Every time we move (which has been too often in the last decade) I do a major purge and declutter. My books and magazines are always spared (as are my letters and photos). I just can’t part with them, even the trashy ones that I know I’ll never look at again.

They also make the most fabulous decor items. How completely gorgeous is a stack of yellow National Geographic magazines piled high?


The point of this post – on a blog that is supposed to be about simplifying and de-accumulating? Books are the one thing I’ll never stop amassing. I just can’t make the switch to a kindle and my magazine fix can’t be online, it has to be the real, glossy thing.

Books, to me, enliven a home. And they can be passed on – again and again. What a gift in our single-use, high turn over world.

My husband’s grandad was known for being intellectual and bookish. All his books, like this inherited beauty, were stamped with his custom made ‘DRM’ stamp.