I have mentioned this 'Private Eye' cartoon before, of a little old lady at the window of a railway station ticket office asking for a "return to simpler times please". That struck a chord with me at the time and still does today.
Simpler times... what does that really imply?
To me it means a world pre-Brexit, pre-Trump and pre-social media. And yes, I do get the irony of that last one, considering that I use it on a daily basis and am doing so in communicating with you right now. The first two points I'll leave well-alone for now, they really are too divisive, particularly the first. But as for wanting to return to a time before 'social media' that might need a bit of explaining, so here goes...
The internet has been a game changer for most of the human race. Information at your finger-tips, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When I was in education and had an assignment to do on, say, King Charles the Second, there were maybe a handful of books in the public library from where I could get the information I needed to complete the task. My ability to gain access to these books was governed by the opening hours of the library and the hope that one of the other 30+ students doing the same assignment hadn't beaten me to them. We did have a general encyclopaedia at home, probably several, but any entry for said monarch would be brief and not up to what I needed - and talking of home references, who on earth possess a printed encyclopaedia any longer, let alone refer to one?
So, access to knowledge with little or no hindrance is a good thing, right?
Well, yes and no. Just type anything into a search engine. Anything. What comes up are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of sites to where you are guided. The first up will be sites that are, in effect adverts or businesses that are wanting to sell you holidays to the places that you were seeking out or trying to sell you products based on the subject you were looking for. Granted, it isn't so bad with wanting to find out information on natural history subjects.
The information that is dished up is correct, can we assume that? Well, no, not necessarily. Where as the books and encyclopaedias that we used to refer to had been peer-checked, edited and written by experts in the field, any old Tom, Dick or Harriet can post on the internet. I could write an essay on King Charles the Second and claim that he was 6 foot 10 inches tall and had a glass eye and somebody, somewhere could come across it and take it as gospel. Wikipedia suffers from this, with public editing of pages that are either misguided or mischievous.
Let's take Twitter and Facebook. I use the former on a daily basis and the latter rarely, both for the sole purpose of gleaning information about natural history, breaking news of what is turning up and in some cases being sent direct messages for local goodies. If I stopped using them then my ability to stay loosely in the loop would whither and die. A few of my chums do still use the phone, but they are in small number.
Trouble is, we are, as a species, narcissistic. These platforms are used as a shop window by many to brag, post, preen and, quite frankly, bore their followers. And yes, I too have been guilty of such behaviour. If I see another photograph of that sodding Tengmalm's Owl on Shetland I might just jump out of an upstair's window. I can understand that the finder's might post a picture. But do all of the several hundred who have twitched it need to do so as well? Fair enough, you've spent probably hundreds to get there, taken over a day to do so, so why not tell the world that you saw it - and, if I had gone, wouldn't I have done the same? Hmmmm, not as straightforward as I thought, all of this 'social-media' malarkey.
"Why don't you just stop using it then Steve?"
I've tried. I really have. Culled the number of people that I follow. Only looked at the feeds a couple of times a day. But, like an addict, I come back for just one more look. I have alerts for certain accounts, the ones that are more likely to let me know of a good bird, moth or plant close to home. I cannot ignore those when they go off. And so I carry on coming back for another hit. Putting up with retweets about Brexit, Climate Change, Hen Harrier persecution, being reminded of what a grim and shitty world we live in.
So, to once again echo what the little old lady at the railway station said, I'd like a return to simpler times please.