Moving into the future at walking pace

I have a friend who has two young children. For the last six weeks the entire family has been sick with one thing or another. They are fully vaccinated. About four months ago the entire family had COVID.

By far the hardest and most stressful thing I ever did was try to be a half decent parent. I cannot say I was a huge success, but I tried, at least most of the time. It terrifies me to even imagine how I’d cope if my children were young during this pandemic.

The greatest generation of this pandemic are the parents, and their greatest achievement very often has been to get through one more day. One more day with a young family is a Mount Everest achievement.

The millions of essential workers are our heroes too. These workers, often grossly underpaid, are what make societies work, what make them livable, what make them lovable. If ever we needed to know that we all need each other, that we cannot survive without one another, this pandemic has surely taught us that.

And ahead loom greater challenges. Ten years ago, I didn’t believe much in the climate crisis. Perhaps it didn’t suit me. At that stage I was a super frequent flyer, and I’m as good as anyone at rationalizing and finding ‘facts’ to suit my agenda.

I watched from the sidelines as the younger generation raised their voices of concern. I admired their energy, passion, spirit, and their clear, science-based messages. I began to listen.

I smugly thought, maybe there’s something I can do. But I work in digital, a voice replied. Digital is green. Digital leads the way in sustainability. But maybe we could be even greener? And so began a journey of research and thinking and writing, and realizing that digital is far from green. That digital is the hidden hand that accelerates the climate crisis.

And I read something that Greta Thunberg said: ‘If it’s a crisis, act like it’s a crisis.’ And I have struggled with that piercing insight, sometimes acting, sometimes not. And it worries me too that the messages I spread about the role of digital and the climate crisis are merely adding more stress to so many people who have already way too much.

And yet I feel most of the time the imperative to act. When I’m struggling to find hope, I hear the voice of Hannah Arendt, that great thinker who acted against the Nazis. She said that in a crisis, hope is a luxury, action is a necessity.

I also have the voice of Samuel Beckett in my head: “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Samuel Beckett, that seeming cynic, fought the Nazis too, played his role with the French Resistance.

There isn’t much we can’t achieve if we rekindle the flame that warms a decent, moral society, a community of Nature, an obligation to all things, a feeling that we are part of, not apart from, that we are within, not superior to or above, that the greatest debt we will ever owe—the greatest wealth we will ever build—is a livable future for all things great and small.

And perhaps the greatest action we can take is to put on the brake. To slow down. To get away more from technology so that we can be more with ourselves, with others, and with Nature.

Let us move into the future at walking pace. And if we need to speed up a bit, we can always get on a bicycle.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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