The modern age of the internet has bought with it an unexpected downside as far as I am concerned. It is now much easier to be worried, frightened and generally angry about the whole of the world in general than it used to be. Every morning now I can sit at my computer and read any newspaper I like instead of either getting my preferred one delivered or going out to buy it.
Generally these days of course I get only the information via the way I want it written and presented to me. So I don’t go to the ‘celebrity’ laden Mail Online, The Sun or Star, the increasingly clickbaity Independent or the painfully little Empire England Telegraph and Mr Murdoch owns the Times. Apparently he doesn’t have enough money yet but I won’t be giving him any of mine to read his skew on things. So that’s The Guardian then, probably just as much of an agenda as the others but closer to mine than anyone else.
Then there’s Twitter and Facebook for us oldies. The youngies are probably still on Snapchat but I predict even that won’t be for long now as that service/app is starting to attract the corporates, chasing after the youngies attention. Once ‘the man’ moves in, the teenagers will go and be rebellious somewhere else. With the social sites though I can choose who to follow and be friends with and which news I want to see. It probably says more about me that some of that is pretty depressing too.
The upside of the internet of course is that you easily have access to many different versions of a story. I find Reuters fairly neutral and read the Full Fact site for checking anything vaguely verifiable that politicians might spout. The downside is that for every story you read, if it is important to you that you understand the truth of it, that you have to read at least 10 different versions of the same thing, discarding the cut and paste copying jobs to find the three most promising ones, fact-checking those and then go off to post the most trustworthy link on Facebook for everyone to see how angry you are about this. Even if there’s a rare good news story, it’s someone doing good despite the bad stuff around them. Obviously you do this while avoiding the distractions of videos of snow-surfing Labradors or cats falling off things they shouldn’t have been asleep on in the first place.
Like all of you then, my view of the world is skewed to how I think it is all going through the sources of information I choose to get about it and the avalanche of negativity only adds to a sense of powerlessness and despondency about it all.
Starting with scary bad and depressing World News, we have Syria, Calais, Russian Hacking, Italian Earthquakes, China, Global Warming and Trump. Not related in any way, probably, just all in the news.
Narrowing down to the UK we have Brexit, Hinkley, Heathrow, HS2. (Note, if you want to have sure-fire investment opportunities, regardless of any Paris Agreements that you pinky-promised to look after the world better, it’s concrete suppliers for massive projects beginning with an H. Top Tip. Even if there’s going to be Houses or Hospitals instead, you’re still good.) Not to mention of course the NHS, fracking, the Pound and Bake Off finishing and imploding in a mess of dough.
Then I narrow down to my own interest in Wildlife. Wales have allowed the Scallop dredgers to return to destroy the Cardigan Bay SSSI because they ‘shouldn’t impede economic activity’. Defra widened the Badger cull area, now my own North Cornwall home is slap bang in the middle of a scientifically dodgy trial ‘expansion’ (‘Hey, we still don’t have any proper answers, I know, let’s kill a few more Badgers’). The Badgers are probably also impeding economic activity somehow. Perhaps they have sectioned off good grazing land and won’t let farmers use it.
On October 31st there was a debate in Parliament because an e-petition reached 123,000 signatures calling for the banning of Driven Grouse Shooting. If you like you can go to Hansard and read the transcript like I did, or you can sit and smugly predict that mostly speaking will be Conservative MP’s with names beginning ‘Sir’ something about how the petition must have been a class thing because people get upset about ‘toffs’ shooting for fun when of course it’s the housewife working the beating jobs on the estate for pin money and the village shop keepers selling Champagne to Charlies and Hats to Henrys who will suffer most.
I have opinions on these things, and I acted in the way I can, I signed the petitions, I joined in the voices against and I wrote to my MP. Then my elected representative doesn’t bother to be there at the debate or believes and backs a completely different thing to me. This is the way democracy works. You have your say about things, you have a right to an opinion and to make as much keyboard based noise as you can. If your noise gets through the other noise loud enough to be noticed by anyone at all and is shared by many people who also own a keyboard but doesn’t still somehow align with those of the media… tough. You might feel a little solace in a specific issue group of the like-minded and score little victories if your issue gets run on the UK News section in a little corner of the BBC website beside the Strictly Come Dancing link.
Every four years you have a vote, a party wins the power to make the decisions by generally being the one that would have come last if all the others had clubbed together. If it wasn’t your party, well, you might as well stick to grumbling a lot and hope the winners screw things up so bad you might have a new party that more people and the media feel is worth backing by the next race.
I resolved then, after another morning of reading about pretty depressing things all around the world and the country, to ignore it all and try to focus only on those things I can control. If you like, I was trying to be a bit Zen about it all, trying to make my life a calm and worry-free zone by realising that all of these things will play their course regardless of me and my thoughts about them. Let it go and be one with the reality of the world, its true nature. Ommmmmm…. I chose not to worry about anything at all and, freely and of my own volition, chose the Outback style hat and went for a walk on the beach at Millook.
The wider world was apparently out to get me anyway. I collected about 5kg of rubbish from that beach. Empty plastic one litre water bottles. About a dozen. Empty plastic half litre water bottles. About a dozen. Fishing line including one with hook and lead weight. Bits of rope. A small buoy. (That’s buoy, with a ‘u’) Bits of plastic that were formerly part of even larger plastic things. A plastic sunglasses frame. A wetsuit zipper strap. Some rubber flip flop soles. Some treaded rubber strips that were probably from tyres hung on the side of fishing boats used as bumpers. A plastic spoon. Some plastic beakers. At least 70,000 (might have been slightly less, it’s not like I really kept count) plastic cottonbud sticks. A shoe.
When I started this collection, soon filling the carrier bag I carried as a ‘just in case’ measure in my jacket pocket, I could feel anger rising up and I walked back along the beach chuntering to myself about the utter stupidity of the human race allowing all of this waste to happen. I might have had an internal rant about people paying a fortune for bottles of water instead of filling a reusable one with water from their tap and then went on a cynical tangent and wondered if the drinks industry is behind all of the advice to ‘stay hydrated’, along with the sugar industry stuffing as much of their product in as well, probably to give everyone enough energy to spend it all swimming and surfing but not enough apparently to take the bottle home to the bin. I was disgusted at commerce for making things for them to sell which made the company a profit just the once but blighted the rest of us for years. Then I walked back to my car, deposited the full carrier bag, calmed down, retrieved a black bin liner from the boot, turned around and headed back.
As I went back, it struck me that I was alone on that beach and, although my picking up of the litter I found was likely to be undone by the next tide depositing even more, I was making a small difference to something directly. These drinks bottles and assorted other plastics were not going to degrade any further and the possibility of them degrading over the years into millions of small particles be eaten by fish was gone. The fishing wire I was picking up right now was not going to kill any birds by tangling up in its bill. The beach is about two or three hundred metres long. I walked 1.8km, picked up half a bin bag full and took three hours doing it. Just because I was there doing this I was affecting the world in a positive albeit still unnoticed way.
Unlike sitting at home getting dragged down into further unnecessary anger and despondency, I wasn’t fuming angrily and making reactionary comments on internet news site articles about things I couldn’t change or signing endless largely ignored petitions to protest about the latest injustice of NHS drug approvals or Disability Benefit changes that were going to be forgotten or brushed off. I was out here, having a nice walk in the sun, on a beach in North Cornwall, picking up rubbish that, although a small effort, was going to end any chance of doing any harm to anyone right here. I let the anger go, felt better and just got on with doing something, my thing, just me.
Beach rubbish is not an issue mired in any political issues that make a difference now, arguing about who or what was responsible for it in the first place changes nothing. There’s an awful lot out there already. You don’t have to have an angle or some rebellious anti-establishment cause. There’s no uniform – apart from the bin liner bag. You don’t have to sign anything and post on social media to your friends to show how disgusted you are. You actually do have the power in you to make a small but properly significant change all of the time. If you’re walking on a beach and you see a plastic water bottle, pick it up, put it in a bag and put it in a bin as you go. The end.
It should be noted that the internet can be used for good entertaining and factual stuff. I like to have a look at Twitter every now and then, the QI feed always has something that cheers me up.
Not today though.