Guest blog series, A Break from Humanity (9) by Ian Carter.

Continued from last Saturday

Walking out from the cottage one morning we came across a freshly dead sheep not far from the house, interrupting the feeding aspirations of a young Great Black-backed Gull and two Hooded Crows as we approached. It was so fresh, I half-expected it to struggle to its feet, but the eyes were already bloodied and hollowed out, and I guessed it had been dead for a few hours at least. We talked about whether I might be able to track the progress of a dead sheep over several months when I returned, to find out just how valuable a food source it was. How long would it take before the whole animal disappeared into the food-chain and how many different species would it support through the lean winter months? I could watch from a distance for perhaps an hour every other day, hoping that two species in particular might pay a visit.

If it was increasingly dawning on Hazel that she was going to be left to her own devices for a while, she didn’t seem unduly perturbed by the idea, which was reassuring, if a little deflating. But she did start to ask lots of challenging questions about how it would all work. It seemed she had at least one new question for each new day. I had experienced much the same when I’d mentioned my idea to friends or family. There was some interest in what I was proposing, and a fair amount of bewilderment. But mostly there were questions, often rather tricky questions, about what I was trying to achieve. I realised that I needed to come up with a clear and firm set of rules, so that I could properly prepare myself for what was to come, and so that I could explain the concept more clearly to other people. I thought about this more over the next two weeks on Colonsay and what I came up with is summarised here.

A Break from Humanity – The rules

  • Living for a period of at least four months in a remote cottage, in an area rich in wildlife but away from roads and other development and where few people will be encountered casually.

  • No access to any technology that provides a connection with the rest of humanity at the point of use – so no TV, radio, mobile phone or wi-fi connection.

  • No car, so all travel on foot. A rental vehicle will be used initially to transport supplies to the house but will then be returned.

  • Communication with other people is not entirely forbidden but will be limited by the location of the house and the lack of transport. Any conversations that do take place must not be used as a way of seeking information about the wider world. Stopping to chat about the scenery and the wildlife is fine, and might help to maintain sanity, but asking someone about the recent news, or even the weather forecast for the next few days, is not allowed.

  • Communication with close family by land-line will be allowed but they will be aware that conversation must be limited to day-to-day happenings and personal well-being rather than wider events or world news. In a sense this mimics a situation that humans have been living with for thousands of years up until very recently – a family unit (though normally living in the same house of course) with little or no information available about the wider world.

  • Non-connected technology is allowed including optical equipment, a computer for writing (but no connectivity), modern appliances and heating etc. This is about seeking a more meaningful and mindful connection with the natural world in the local area, it is not about self-sufficiency or shunning all technology.

  • Food supplies to be delivered weekly by prior arrangement with the local shop

To be continued on Saturday at 12:45…

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3 Replies to “Guest blog series, A Break from Humanity (9) by Ian Carter.”

  1. Thoroughly enjoying your blog, Ian. I am curious, with regards comminication, how do you define “very recently”?

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  2. Ed - I'm thinking over evolutionary timescales I suppose. Lifestyles will have varied over the past few thousand years but go back that far (a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms) and most people would be living in small communities with little news filtering through from outside the group. Much the same would be true for a lot of people even a few hundred years ago. But by adopting technology we now find ourselves living a highly connected lifestyle that our brains are simply not adapted for, which is a troublesome and presumably unique situation.

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  3. Thanks - I thought that’s what you meant. Yes, in a matter of decades after their creation in the 1830s, electrical telegraph networks permitted people and commerce to transmit messages across both continents and oceans almost instantly, with widespread social and economic impacts.

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