When I was five years old, I viewed the world through frames of fantasy. I remember travelling with my parents to the Lake District – a national park in Cumbria, northwest England – for a short recluse away from the city which was our home. The suburban beauty of its pure nature affirmed its undeniable charm, and as a young child mesmerised by the simplest of things, many of its traditions compelled me. One particular episode worth noting was a storyteller’s garden I visited in a small village called Grasmere. Families would gather around a fantastical storyteller who would immerse each and every soul present through recounting traditional fairytales. You’d sit on ornate wooden chairs and feel at complete ease surrounded by torches and braziers, which only served to amplify the tales told before you. It was a mesmeric experience to my youthful, dreaming self – I felt part of a world far from reality. Maybe that’s a reason I grew to study and love literature – I always enjoyed the feeling of escaping to an alternative world.
With this little trip occurring in 2001 – just a year into the new millennium – activities like this were the foremost form of escape for a lot of children, including myself. Now, seventeen years later, the same idea stands. But I don’t think experiences like this are as groundbreaking due to the constant advancements taking place. As opposed to the metaphorical frame of fantasy that I viewed the world through, the frame for children is now more commonly physical – it comes in the form of a screen. Our cultural landscape has shifted rapidly in the past ten years, and now it’s supposedly the ‘norm’ to see five year olds walking around with smartphones in their hands, immersed in a virtual world as opposed to just innocently imagining it in their minds. I recently embarked on a five day trip to the Lake District with my parents, back to that rural fantasy my five year old self was so dazzled by. I haven’t been back for years, so I was shocked to return and see how small it really was. I visited the the storyteller’s garden and this place which was once the vastest fairytale forest of my dreams was, in actuality, one of the tiniest spaces I’ve encountered. Seeing it was a little sad, and it made me realise that growing up is a funny thing, especially for people of my generation today. We’ve experienced a childhood deeply satisfied by hearing stories, playing games, being creative. Yet our teenage years of maturing subsequently aligned with the quick development of technology, and the growing phenomenon of social media. Our young selves constructed dreams and fantasies solely in our minds, but today, these fantasies are much more real. They can be visually understood or related through a technological device, something our former youthful selves could only have dreamed of, never fully expecting it to embrace it as a reality. But now it is. Alongside the currently advanced five year olds, we’re consumed by this virtual reality. I didn’t really realise the extent to which it has taken over until I recently spent a few days in this pastoral setting without it.
Arriving to the Lake District and discovering those two tiny troubling words in the corner of my phone: No Service, lead to me asking: ‘Okay. What’s the Wifi?’. Embarrassing, I know. But it’s a question a lot of people today would ask, because it’s something which we can constantly call upon at our fingertips and immerse ourselves in as though its as real as the ground we walk upon. To my surprise, there was no Wifi either. The sudden realisation that I was to be without this for five days was, truthfully, a little unsettling. Why? Because lacking connection to this impalpable world makes you feel quite literally disconnected from reality. That’s the thing about the virtual world – we’ve got to this point where having no ‘connection’ makes us question the reality we’re in. The dividing wall between social media and social reality is rapidly falling, ten bricks at a time. Seeing your friends’ Instagram post from a restaurant is something you ‘like’ as though you’ve experienced it with them. But in reality, the more and more people share every minute of their day on a technological device, the nature of social human etiquette erodes. Take this example of a restaurant. Entering a restaurant today can, more often than not, be like entering a parallel world where emotions serve no value. On one table, a couple are on a date, each holding a glass of wine in one hand, their smartphone in another. Yes, they’re talking – just to the virtual world instead of to each other. Throughout the rest of the setting, people are quite literally under the control of their phones as they aim them high above their heads to get that perfect shot of the meal positioned in front of them. Arms in air, smartphone devices in hand, reality declines as this unreality retains control. And as the phone dangles high in hand, so too does the stability of distinguishing your public life to your private life.
I think that’s the main problem with technology and media – we’re so compelled to share as much as possible of our day that we’re doing things for the sake of how they’ll make us look to others as opposed to actually experiencing them. There’s that cliched question girls joke about: ‘If I haven’t Instagrammed it, did it really happen?’ But are they really joking about it? Obviously it did happen, but people are so under the influence of social media that most would initially find themselves answering ‘no’ to this question. Of course, I love technology and social media – my growing up has accurately aligned with its rapid development. Virtual reality is a place for me to externalise some thoughts and show creativity, and for that I will always enjoy being a part of it. It definitely represents a certain chunk of my life, but that’s my point exactly: it’s only certain chunks as opposed to absolutely everything. I think it’s important to share just a chunk of your life with people, to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It was rather refreshing for me to experience just the one reality for a few days – the reality that didn’t involve my small but steering smartphone. So from initially feeling unsettled at the thought of disconnecting myself from this virtual reality, I instead found it to be liberating. It’s refreshing to understand the value of emotional expression, without clicking a button on your Facebook status to let your friends know whether you’re happy or sad. That’s just a standardisation. It’s fun to share parts of your week with people, but endlessly seeking for something to be shared is only sure to diminish the value of the events that make up your day.
So the shots that accompany this post are snapshots from my short trip. I took my camera out with me for one afternoon for my parents to take these shots, and I wanted to share them because that’s what this wonderful thing called the internet is for. It’s a place to share a chunk of your life. But not all of your life. There were many, many more images from my trip, just not stored on my camera roll. I mentioned growing up earlier, and it’s strange because growing up in my generation was like transitioning from one world to another. But the same idea of maturity stands – for me, growing up is about accepting and enjoying your independence. Independence, after all, will forever be just your own company. It’s not something that should always be displayed for everyone to see. Some experiences are just to be shared with ourselves.
Trench Coat: Portobello Road Market
Jumper: Rockit Vintage, London
Jeans: Blitz Vintage, London
~ x ~