Wondering, Wandering in a Mobile World

Wandering and wondering: two words that sound nearly the same and mean something similar. When written with an 'a', wandering refers to the physical meandering of a body through space, whereas with an 'o', it becomes metaphysical: an exploration of and around ideas, dreams and concepts.

I wander

Wandering and wondering very often go together. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Reveries of the Solitary Walker uses the walk to frame and provide a backdrop for thinking about things beyond anything encountered or experienced on the actual walk.

"Having decided to describe my habitual state of mind," he explains at the beginning of the Second Walk, "I could think of no simpler or surer way of carrying out my plan than to keep a faithful record of my solitary walks and the reveries that occupy them, when I give free rein to my thoughts and let my ideas follow their natural course, unrestricted and unconfined."

I wonder

Sitting at my computer over two hundred years later, I understand where Rousseau is coming from. With our ever-increasing mobility and 24/7 media and communication, more and more time is spent neither fully here nor there, but travelling -- if not physically then mentally -- somewhere we are not, rendering us dispersed, in body and mind, sometimes further and sooner than we might wish.

I have a love/hate relationship with the networked mobility of our world. On the one hand I find it incredibly exciting that through the internet one is able to contact more or less anyone, pursue any interest, build a website, tap into or even form a community: the levelling, democratic aspects of the world-wide web.

On the other hand, what has always bothered me the most -- particularly in relation to possessing (being subject to) a mobile phone -- is the lessening of 'self' time, space and the uninterrupted solitude that comes with it.

How can we get away?

We are running too fast, trying to get too much done, and in doing this we are forgetting about ourselves.

To suggest that we forget about ourselves, however, could be taken as ironic in a world that appears to rate the 'rights' of the individual so highly. The signs of this are everywhere. Buy a new lipstick "Because I'm Worth It" (L'Oreal); "Have the World in the Palm of Your Hand" (Orange). Get world news from your internet server, tailored to your interests so you only have to read about the things you want. Organize your favorite websites in your browser. In fact, the success of communication technologies depends absolutely upon flattering, serving and facilitating the cult of the individual.

Share the Moment

A month or so ago I went for a walk with Mildred, my mother's nine year-old Labrador, and my lovely friend Charlotte. In a beach hut that we managed to break into, to shelter from the wind, she sent a carefully worded text message to her ex-lover.

I took a mini-DV camera on that walk. It was a beautiful bright day, but there were very few people around. I was feeling rather lacking in words, but hungry for the colors, the sharpness of the light and the long bleak concrete sea walls.

When I got home I was able to watch those views again (out of the cold), and even to photograph them differently. It was good to have a second chance.

It is a strange world we live in. Permanently connected to all those we know; family, friends, colleagues and even enemies -- just in case they decide to ring one day, at least we know not to answer.

Speeding Up, Losing Time

Although much discussed, the issue of speed is not unique to our age. Man has always desired it -- partly for the thrill, but chiefly to further his power over his environment. The faster we can get there, the greater is our influence over distance.

Speed is a part not only of our world but also of our selves. We have absorbed speed into our own sense of identity. As Jeremy Millar and Michiel Schwartz point out: "We appreciate the quick answer, the snap judgement, rather than careful consideration or quiet deliberation. Decisiveness is a strength, contemplation a weakness." [Speed - visions of an accelerated age (Photographers' Gallery, 1998)].

As I eat my breakfast this morning, reminders of this are all around me. The orange-juice carton promises how drinking a glass a day will help me cope with (control?) "today's fast pace of life." I open last Saturday's paper supplement and an advert for an Olympus digital camera (in a weather-proof body) encourages me to "Capture Every Moment. Life is precious. Don't miss a second of it"; and for Canon cameras: "Shorten the distance between imagination and image."

We love speed and we hate it. On the one hand we feel ill, stressed and overdone by all the rushing we get caught up in and have to squeeze in a session or two of yoga every week but on the other we can't wait for anything. Five minutes late and a text message will be sent, one way or the other. Get your digital camera now. There is no time to waste.

Part of the reason we can't waste time, however, is because most people spend most of their time at work. With just two days off in a "9 to 5" five-day a week job, there are few minutes in the day left for anything else at all, let alone to waste. Saturday is for nursing a hangover, Sunday is for doing a wash. Then it's back to work again. With work taking up most of our waking hours and media increasingly invading the rest (mobile phones and internet also bringing work home, breaking down the traditional boundaries between home and work, time off and time on) time and space to wonder ("to waste") is running out.

Dispersed Subjects

We should wonder more. The great thing about wondering is that unlike "journeys" or "investigations" that demand an outcome in the form of identifiable results (final destinations and conclusions) wonderings do not. They have no end in site/sight. Rather, like poetry, wonderings are journeys in and of themselves. It is what one encounters along the way and how that matters, rather than where one ends up. They are pensive rather than productive.

A journey, despite the presence of a destination, provides a valuable opportunity to catch up with oneself, a set amount of time to think. On a journey, one can wonder well; it is one of the rare spaces we have left.

Our culture is fast. We know that. A text message, ground-breaking at one point, is later easily erased; emails, digital photos and films too. We have to remember to savor the present when we can.

Tonight my friend Charlotte came round. She is no longer in touch with her ex-lover. After the text message, it was four days before she had any response. Her entire relationship (other than when they met up) was conducted over text message - for various reasons.

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