So, 2016 draws to its end. And all in all, I can’t say it’s been a particularly good year. We often say that, don’t we? Well, in this instance, I really do think it's true. I have a sense that this year, more than literally any other in my adult lifetime, humankind seems to be sleepwalking into its own destruction.
Throughout time, man has been buggering things up. Man has been fighting with himself, using a variety of justifications. Politics, money, religion. Almost certainly, more wars have been fought as a result of these three motivations than any other, I would surmise.
And we seem to be in a mad rush to the achieve the ultimate satisfaction, whatever that is. We see the next gadget come into the ‘marketplace’, and we queue in the street to get oour hands on it, as if our lives will end if we don’t possess it. I have never understood how a person can literally sleep in the street overnight, simply to be able to be one of the first to ‘possess’ an Apple product. That seems to me to be a strange accolade to aspire to.
People walking along the street, staring at their mobile phones, head down, in most cases almost, if not completely oblivious to what’s going on around them. They might look up at the last minute when they become aware of a pair of feet looming into their peripheral vision as they stare at the screen. If one is lucky, they might step to one side. More often than not, one has to walk around them to avoid a pedestrian collision.
We drive along the road in our cars and now more than ever, we feel ‘safe’ in our insulated four wheeled boxes. Here we can avoid any interaction with other people, beyond the toot of the horn in frustration, anger, devilment or what ever motivates us, dependant on the circumstances. We take the view that the piece of road in front of us belongs to us as if by some divine right. We queue in traffic queues, impatiently tutting and huffing, bemoaning the number of vehicles on the road, as if we are somehow not part of that. We complain that the roads are getting far too busy these days and that it is impossible to get around. We complain of the state of the roads, the state of the traffic. As if it’s all down to somebody else. And increasingly, we lose our temper, shouting and swearing at the driver who made a simple error, not deliberately, but because they are human and fallible. And occasionally, we go further, get out of our nice safe warm cosy vehicles and do damage to those people, even kill them. For what? To make us feel that we were ‘right’ all along? To make them ‘pay’?
We complain about the state of the NHS. “It’s not being given enough money!” we cry. “The government is to blame!” we wail. Both of these might be true to a greater or lesser extent. However, in my experience there is an uncomfortable truth being missed here. People, (remember them) run the NHS. And too many of those people are not doing bits of their jobs properly. The waste of money that is going on in the NHS is just shocking. I promise you, it is happening. These people are not wilful, The systems that other people have created are often so unwieldy and badly thought through that the people charged with actually working with these systems are worn out with it all, and taking the path of least resistance. I don’t blame them.
As a society, we are firmly in the grip of a consciousness which makes us think we are entitled to everything and responsible for nothing. From the logic that we are ‘entitled’ to a driving licence, to the notion that we can do what we like, when we like and who is to tell us we are wrong, we march on in the grip of this blinkered knowledge that we are always right, and every other bastard can sod off.
Why is it, I ask myself, that people far too often feel that they should deal with any little ripple in their world with aggression, intimidation and belligerence? It is not what we say but the way we say it. We assume that someone is out to get us all the time. And that makes us feel that we should go all passive-aggressive at the very least, and start a fight at the worst.
Piece of advice here, people, from someone who has spent most of his life dealing with people in their worst times, ……..don’t start a fight unless you KNOW you will win. Invariably, you won’t win and not winning will bloody hurt.
Oooo, I’ve just gone all ‘Grasshopper’ there for a second! Don’t know who Grasshopper was? Go Google it!!
And in those last three words lies the problem to a considerable extent.
Google. And the internet. And social media. And technology.
I am 52 years old. Consequently I can remember this world before the internet. Before social media. I’m really not trying to go all “the world ain’t what it used to be” and “when I were a lad, you could go out and leave yer door open, and the milkman would help himself to a cuppa” and “the world were a better place”. I accept that in many ways, the world has got better. Technology has helped us to achieve things and create things that were only dreamed of years ago and which has saved lives beyond what we might have thought possible. Technology has helped us to communicate and stay in touch with people we would previously have never seen or heard from again. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
To literally be able to see one of my wonderful step-daughters as she lives her life on the other side of the world, through the medium of Skype. To reconnect with lost colleagues with whom I spent a big chunk of my days on this planet through Facebook. To be able to share my photographic work with people all over the planet on Instagram.
Just fantastic, don’t you think? None of this was possible twenty years ago. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank the people who came up with this stuff and made it all possible.
But there is a catch. And that catch is people. People have become trapped in the virtual world. They are trapped in their Iphones and devices and technology. Generation Facebook anyone?? And yes, this generation does include my generation. No one is immune to it unless they choose to be.
It’s on Facebook, therefore it must be factual and correct, innit? It’s not Facebook that’s the problem, it’s us, people!!! We have become accustomed to ‘talking’ to each other, virtually. The vast majority of us now spend sooooo much time communicating virtually that we appear to have forgotten how to communicate face to face. We hide behind the keyboard, getting all offended, getting all self-righteous because someone said something we disagree with and we respond with words that are ill-advised. Back in the day, before ‘teknoloji’, we went to the pub and spoke with people, debating the world and its ills and successes. We met people who said things that were out of order. And we put them right with well-chosen words (most of the time! Yeah,yeah, some people got a smack on the nose instead).
And that is my point. Back in the day, when we were having these conversations in the pub, these discussions, these arguments, we chose our words carefully. To not do so risked the aforementioned smack on the nose! These days, when communicating on social media, too many people use language that, if the same conversation was happening face to face, the ‘smack on the nose’ would be pretty much guaranteed. Too many people are so indoctrinated in this what might be called ‘virtualspeak’, that they cannot help but use it in the real world. And we wonder why so many people are so aggressive to each other?
Ultimately I think we have forgotten how to stop. To take a breath. To let our minds rest from the incessant chatter.
And to disconnect from time to time. Literally, in some cases.
And how to be a bit nicer to each other, whether it be the person walking down the street, one’s neighbour or the Syrian conflict. Do I think we will ever achieve such a thing? Probably not. It’s been this way for the last six thousand years; probably going to remain so. However, I do think that things have got worse and the rate of ‘getting worse’ is increasing.
Do I think things will improve? Nope. I am famously pessimistic, as my wonderful wife keeps telling me. And as such, I would say no, wouldn’t I? Actually, no, I wouldn't (if you see what I mean!) I honestly see little evidence that mankind is learning the lessons of history. I see little evidence that mankind is willing to stop. And think. And disconnect.
Until mankind does do these things, I will carry on, endeavouring to practice what I preach, making a resolution for next year to regularly stop. Think. And disconnect.
And feel a little calmer and appreciative of the world around me. That is why I photograph, I have realised. Photographs are our windows to the world, in a sense. They are our history and we should never forget history. In my photographs, I see, properly see, what I am looking at. Maybe that is what we should all try to do a bit more of.
Happy Christmas everyone, and here’s to a New Year that might, just might, be a little better and brighter. Let’s all of us, do what we can to achieve that fine goal.