17 February 2013

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

Unkie Dave in his own private Dromosphere
Electric Picnic, Stradbally Co Laois, September 1st, 2012
It never ceases to amaze me what a little bit of blue skies, and a good aul' bike ride can do to restore a sense of well-being to one's life.

I've often speculated that peace in the Middle East could be achieved simply by bringing the entire population of the region to Ireland from October to January, for once they got back home they would all have both a shared pain to commiserate with each other over, and a new appreciation for just how amazing their lives could be together now they are no longer trapped in the monochromatic nightmare of an Irish winter.

This weekend it would appear that maybe, just maybe, our long national winter is starting to think about giving us all a break and handing over the remote control to spring, and as the skies cleared and a mysterious blue colour appeared above our collective heads, yesterday saw the first proper cycle of the year for me, a medium-sized jaunt of about 25km in total (my usual route being just shy of 40km).

Cycling, for me, is not a hobby or a past-time. I do not have an expensive bike, nor would I ever humiliate my family and friends by ever being seen in public in lurid day-glo Lycra. At its worst cycling is simply a journey from A to B, but at its best it is an exercise in splendid isolation that allows me to shut out the wider world and collapse in upon my own thoughts. It is a meditation only occasionally punctured by homicidal taxi-drivers or buses intent on harvesting my organs for resale to Larry Goodman. There is a regular rhythm to the movement of the bike that acts as a metronome for my mind, a tick-tick-tick that enables a process of thought that rarely happens in a world of intrusive emails and Tweets and the near constant cacophonic interruptions of urban life, the coughs and colicky belches the city makes to remind us all that it is still there. Always still there.

The Parisian urbanist and cultural theorist Paul Virilio uses the phrase "dromosphere" (from the Greek word "dromos", meaning both 'race/running' and 'race-track') to explain the state one exists in when moving at speed. It is both a physical space and an awareness, for just as our perception of real objects is blurred as they seem to zip past us when we move rapidly, so to does our understanding of things change as we move at speed, or as the speed at which we consume information is increased.

At a basic level the speed with which we are constantly bombarded with digital information, from Tweets and emails to 24/7 news feeds on both the web and television, means that not only do we have little time to process and understand this constant deluge, but we are also bludgeoned into accepting freshness and immediacy over substance. We become addicts to the steady torrent of information that crashes down upon us, demanding the latest hit as the rush of the just-old starts to fade.

While we are constantly told that we live in an "information age", what does it actually mean to be surrounded by unprecedented levels of information?

 In The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan writes of "food deserts", large areas, often urban, where as a result of the omnipresent chain convenience stores it is often impossible to buy fresh produce, the only food available is preprepared and highly-processed, high fat and higher sugar . These deserts are the leading cause of obesity in the US, it is not simply a matter of over-eating that has changed the face of America, it is the result of eating the wrong foods because no other food is available. The ongoing horse-meat crisis in Europe is a parallel symptom of these deserts of Capitalism, as every corner is cut to maximise profit and those on the lowest incomes forced to subsist on food barely suitable for human consumption out of both economic necessity and because no other options are presented.

I have come to believe that while we may indeed live in an Information Age, increasingly we find ourselves trapped in Knowledge Deserts. We are surrounded by digital convenience stores plying their wares 24/7, but every Tweet, every feed, every webcast and liveblog provides little more than a steady diet of preprepared and highly-processed information, digital high fat and higher sugar. We consumer and consume, and consume until our minds are bursting and bloated with morbid information obesity, yet we gain nothing of the Knowledge that we actually need to live. The speed of consumption prevents understanding and critical reflection, it prevents the development of Knowledge. We eat and eat, yet our intellect atrophies from malnutrition of the mind.

There is an irony here that to escape our societal dromosphere, I construct my own personal one as I race along on my bike. By restricting my awareness of the wider world around me, by blurring the outside until it becomes unreal, I am able to focus on a environment of my own construction. These brief hours spent in my own private dromosphere provide a healing salve that I didn't realise was so necessary until weather and lethargy interposed themselves upon my daily routine.

I may not be able to get out every day, but a few times a week would do wonders for my overall well-being. Not enough to chase away the grumpiness, but maybe just enough to help it be a little more focused and coherent.

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At 12:29 pm, Blogger Kerry's Eye said...

Great read Dave! I am sitting here reading this on a particularly beautiful sunny day in Killarney, following an equally sunny weekend where I was out on my bike in the national park twice. I really like your idea of the dromosphere. Time to bring the kids out in the garden for the afternoon. On a not unrelated point about our winter, my little Maeve (2) complained this morning about not getting her dose of vitamin D from a small bottle. Actual sunshine is apparently a poor substitute.


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