It is the end of the school year, but after a year of retirement I have only noticed this because there seem to be more children in evidence when I go shopping. The daily physical work involved in the care of four very large animals keeps me very active but the mental challenges in such a sedentary life are few and undemanding.
I mainly try to make sure the donkeys are not outwitting me. The score is usually around evens. Sometimes the donkeys manage to open gates or get past electric wire defences, so we end up with a donkey in the chicken pen – eating their food – or worse, a donkey in the kitchen garden – eating my food. The main event for the past few days has been trying to bath the donkeys. The hot weather affords an opportunity to give them all a complete shampoo treatment without any fear of them getting a chill. Donkeys are more susceptible to a chill than horses, and they do not have waterproof coats so need to be dried off thoroughly as soon as they have been washed. This summer I am using a new equine shampoo with insect repellent.
Catching and bathing the first donkey is the easiest part of the process. After that it becomes a complete circus because the others have been observing the procedure and have made up their minds that they do not want to have water thrown over them. It gets progressively more and more difficult to catch the next donkey… Finally we have the spectacle of Morris doing fast circuits around the field; down the slope to level two, up the slope to level one, high kicks and flying past in clouds of dust. There is only one solution: a trail of carrots leading to the head collar and lead rope, a bucket of prepared shampoo and the hose…
Yes, I have successfully outwitted a donkey again! Hooray. Job done. I walk the dripping Morris up the road to dry him off in the sun. Successfully bathing a Morris is not the end of the challenge: I have to prevent him rolling in the dirt immediatelybefore he is dry. Not being outwitted by donkeys is a full time occupation.
So far, so uncomplicated. A quiet life is possible. But I am increasingly regarding the Internet as a menace. I don’t mean social media. I only used Twitter and Facebook temporarily for specific Brexit-related pro-EU campaigning, and I have no present involvement with these insidious and time-wasting media. This blog is a sort of online diary. It is safe territory. Whatsapp is fine: it works like a telephone. You can keep in touch with family and friends, organise your social life etc. Educational resources on the Internet are also very handy: I prepared for my Spanish citizenship with materials freely available online.
All these uses of the Internet are fine and I have not lost the sense of excitement I first experienced in the mid-1990s when the Internet suddenly became part of our lives and opened a new world of instant information. (There were also entertaining moments, as with the old Staffroom Newsgroup – more than twenty years ago!)
But there is a problem. We now inhabit a world in which information forces itself into our lives and screams for our attention 24/7. If the last thing you do before going to sleep – and the first thing you do upon waking – is to check your mobile phone, there is a danger that the information flow from that little palm-sized piece of plastic has become your reality. Real life has been relegated to the next thing to notice after you see there are no messages.
I read an article a month ago, with a link to a book available as an open-source pdf online. I have finished reading it and I recommend it. It is by ex-Google advertising guru turned philosopher James Williams, and is a very intelligent critique of the demands made by the Internet on our attention span, Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy (Cambridge University Press, 2018. ISBN: 9781108453004) Also freely available as a downloadable open source copy on PDF
I don’t think I will ever win against the donkeys. They will continue to outwit me. But that does not apply to the Internet. In particular, it does not apply to the news. Just try this technique, which has served me well for nearly two weeks now: when you see or hear the words “Brexit” “Trump” or “Boris” shut down the computer and don’t return to it for at least two hours because nothing that follows will benefit you in the slightest.
What to do instead? Go and walk a wet donkey.