A piece by Sally Campbell
In 1987 Wendell Berry, poet, farmer, philosopher wrote a piece for Harper’s magazine on “Why I am not going to buy a computer”. His wife typed his books on a typewriter bought in 1956 and as a farmer he did almost all his work with horses and as a writer worked with pencil or pen and paper. As you can guess he was told he could greatly improve things by buying a computer. He always answered no, for several reasons.
• The first that he did not wish his writing to be directly dependent on strip mined (Appalachian) coal.
• It would depend on harming nature. He always wrote in daylight hours
• He did not admire computer manufacturers any more than energy industries as he read the propaganda and inducements for buying the latest, yet another piece of expensive equipment, that
would solve all the problems.
• What would it cost him? This would not just be monetary, the discarding of the “old model”, but as well the personal relationships involved in the writing, the critiquing, fellow workers. Sacrificing associations and real time face to face conversations.
• Finally he did not wish to fool himself that he or anyone else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil
We have come a long way with computers since 1987, as I sit here in front of the latest manifestation. But on the train to Glasgow, or even walking around the Co-op in Brodick, I see the data crunchers in people’s hands receiving messages, or other forms of communication, even their shopping list. No one appears to look out the window of the train anymore, talk to their children, or chat to other passengers, even smile.
We all know now that the Climate Emergency is here, not a faraway prospect, but now. On Arran too. Knowing how much electricity we consume is important going forward. How many IT gadgets do you have in your home from those wrist watches, Smart phones, Smart TVs, how does your use of these energy gobblers affect global warming? Do you turn off the power when not in use? All those mega computers storing all our data ‘in the cloud’ have to be cooled by power generated elsewhere.
Listening to Charles Moore, as guest editor of Radio 4’s Today programme last Saturday, he increased my blood pressure in several ways although his denial of climate change was to be expected since back in April 2017 he authored an article for The Telegraph which advocated “a bonfire of green regulations” and a return to fossil fuels to improve the British economy after Brexit. As a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator and The Sunday Telegraph, he still writes for all three. He carries journalistic weight and of course gives listeners and readers the excuse to do nothing about our individual power and energy use, be it electricity, fuel for cars, planes, food transport and our general consumption, and these can be “fast” clothes, air journeys, food buying at the click of a button from an on-line market platform. Permission not to do anything because it is untrue and so continue in the same old ways ignoring that even imports have an energy price tag too for the country of origin.
But all this instant consumerism can become overwhelming, and there is clearly now concern about individual’s mental welfare in for ever being “online” with smart devices and persuaded by advertising to buy, buy, buy now or receiving fake news, unpleasant twitter feeds etc. We also deep down know that a large proportion of our consumption is an extravagance and virtually all of it is consuming the ecosystems of the world.
So what to do?
• Yes, belong to conservation organisations, and put pressure on the politicians to have a strategic plan. But distrust of politicians has grown, in that their timeline is a maximum of 5 years and they use fake news to beguile us.
• Every day you live in this Environmental Crisis, so what will you do differently this day, this week and this year? Our first duty is to reduce our own consumption.
• Turn off the smart phone, make time to be still, read, reflect. Wendell Berry wrote poetry too and in The Peace of Wild Things (2018) he writes:
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the place of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Arran gives us huge opportunities to live more in the natural world, to care for it and ourselves in unison. Communication is now so often only on line, facilitated by advances in technology. I can no longer do so many interactions by talking to a real person, but must use “on-line services”. Watching the film at The Screen Machine “I, Daniel Blake” by Ken Loach showing the scandal of Britain’s benefits system and its reliance on computer algorithms, I quickly got the message reinforced that the human face of many government organisations has been subsumed into systems, “for greater efficiency”. This has effectively disenfranchised many people and forced others to use computer connectivity exclusively, be they local authorities, energy companies, and banks in particular, just as “hands -on helping organisations” such as CAB have been reduced or closed. So we need to talk to neighbours, use our influence to improve our collective environment both interpersonally and environmentally. It is up to us, now more than ever.
Berry, Wendell (2018) Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer. Penguin Modern
Berry, Wendell (2018) The Peace of Wild Things and other poems. Penguin Bools
Sally Campbell, December 2019