Nobody Knows

Self-Portrait in Black and White

Nobody knows the world is ending
Nobody knows we’re all alone
Nobody knows how we got here
Nobody knows the way back home

Nobody knows the pain you live with
Nobody knows the masks you wear
Nobody knows the promises you’ve broken
Nobody knows the scars you bear

Did you think love would save you?
Did you think everything would just work out?
Don’t you know life’s not like that?
Don’t you know what it was all about?

Nobody knows if Jesus is coming
Nobody knows if God is dead
Nobody knows the clock is ticking
Nobody knows the end is up ahead

Nobody knows what it has cost you
Nobody knows the lies you tell
Nobody knows how hard it is to keep going
Nobody knows how far you fell

Did you think you would find forgiveness?
Did you think you would explain it all away?
Don’t you know some things can’t be forgiven?
Don’t you know there’s nothing you can say?

Nobody knows the war is coming
Nobody knows it’s already too late
Nobody knows the game is over
Nobody knows how to change their fate

Nobody knows the prayers you whisper
Nobody knows the secrets you keep
Nobody knows everything you’ve lost
Nobody knows why you weep

Did you think it was going to be easy?
Did you think you would just start again?
Don’t you know your sins have to be paid for?
Don’t you know there was a price, even then?

Nobody knows how the inmates took over
Nobody knows who’s running the show
Nobody knows who’s going to save us
Nobody knows how the future will go

Nobody knows why I still love you
Nobody knows why I hate you too
Nobody knows why it’s so hard to forgive
Nobody knows what we’ve been through

Nobody knows
No nobody knows

Photo: Self-Portrait in Black and White © CJ Levinson 2016
Poem licenced under Creative Commons

Love Wins

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I took this photo last month in Broadmeadow while on my way to catch the train for a trip to Sydney. It was complete happenstance that I came across it but I had to stop and take a quick shot.

I thought I’d post it today as I think it sums up how so many Australians have felt throughout this survey and are feeling today. Love is love and I’m so, so happy that we’re almost there. Fingers crossed our parliament passes marriage equality before Christmas.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2017

Revenge of the Fifth


A long time ago
In a shopping centre
Not so far, far
Away

Yesterday was May the Fourth, or Star Wars Day for fans of the series. It’s a fun day where fans show their love for the series and generally just embrace their inner geek (myself included).

In that spirit I was out shopping yesterday afternoon and came across some of the Southern Cross Garrison of the 501st Legion in full costume outside 2012 Tattoo in Charlestown Square. 2012 Tattoo were having Star Wars-themed events all day and the 501st were there posing for photos for a gold coin donation for charity, so I gave them a couple of dollars and took this.

For just a quick portrait I really like it and it was nice meeting some of the members of the 501st. Their costumes are absolutely fantastic and they do great work for charities and helping to bring cheer to sick kids in hospitals etc. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them when Episode VIII opens and maybe see if they ever need a photographer to cover any events for them, it looks like fun!

I meant to post the photo yesterday for the 4th but ran out of time. So I’m posting it today instead – on the Revenge of the Fifth! 🙂

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2017

My Favourite Photos from 2016

A belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2017 is a good year for you and a better one for the world in general.

I thought I’d start off the new year by posting some of my favourite photos from last year. They’re a mix of landscapes, portraits and street photos and there are a few images here I haven’t shared before so I hope you like them.

2016 was a pretty good year for my photography. I had several sales, started doing some portraits and in general I think my photography improved a lot during the year. I had a few setbacks as well – most notably a broken foot which has sidelined me for a while – but overall I’m pleased with how the year went and I’m happy with how all of these photos came out.

My main photography goals for 2017 are to keep improving and testing myself and to increase my exposure locally. I’d also like to experiment more with using flash creatively – which probably means buying another flash, so we’ll see!

I hope you enjoy the photos. How was your 2016?

Steampunk Photoshoot

My photography group did a special steampunk-inspired photoshoot last weekend. It was a very fun shoot in a rundown part of Carrington in Newcastle which really suited the theme. Our model for the day Tina and makeup artist Jaymee-Lee were absolutely fantastic and very creative.

This was a bit of a first for me. I’ve done portrait work before, including for friends and clients, but it’s almost always been in a controlled environment with flash. This was a very exposed environment, with lots of reflective surfaces and very harsh midday sunlight. So it was an interesting challenge.

We used reflectors to soften the light a bit and rather than try to avoid them, I decided to use some of the reflective objects and backgrounds as much as I could to create some interesting textures and shapes in Tina’s funky glasses. I also shot a couple of photos in black and white and I think those came out very well, particularly the final photo which is my favourite.

Overall I’m happy with the results. It was a good learning experience and was definitely something I’d like to do more of in the future. These kind of themed portrait shoots and covering convention cosplay are two things I’d really like to get into going forward.

I hope you like the photos.

Photos © CJ Levinson 2016

Which Door Would you Choose?

 

So I came across an interesting post on Facebook earlier today. It asked a question that in turn got me thinking about something else. So I thought I’d borrow the idea and explore it in a bit more detail on the blog.

First, here’s the post itself:

which door would you choose

I guess I found it interesting as when I was young I used to daydream a little about this kind of thing. Quite often I used to imagine I was in Sherwood Forrest or Camelot and I loved using my imagination to make me feel like I was really there and not in my bedroom or back yard. This doesn’t seem all that different from those childhood fantasies.

What would I do now, given the choice as an adult? Where would I love to visit and what would I love to see? Maybe the beauty of Rivendell or the grandeur of Camelot? The fun of magical London or the breadth of the Wall?

I find that idea really fun to think about but, funnily enough, treating it seriously for a moment, I don’t think I’d actually want to go to any of those worlds.

When you stop and think about it and place them into context, all these worlds are wonderfully imagined, magical places but they’re also all torn apart by war and strife. That’s the nature of fiction, that it needs conflict to drive the narrative, and that’s often what interests us about these worlds as backdrops – but that becomes very different when you think about these places as potentially being ‘real’. While a child might dream of playing and adventuring in those worlds, for an adult they probably wouldn’t be as attractive and likely would be very dangerous.

I guess if you were to imagine a real world equivalent, it would be a bit like visiting Syria at the moment; it would be a wonderful place to see and learn about but probably not that safe and not somewhere most people would choose to go.

Given that, I find it quite hard to answer the question. All of the places would have incredible beauty and interesting landmarks, so it would be hard for me to decide simply based on that also.

So I guess this is how I would answer and why:

For me Narnia would be first out as, no matter how interesting that world is, it’s basically set against a never-ending religious civil war and there is enough of that in our world. And Neverland is a pretty weird and dangerous place when you think about it, so that’s out for me as well. Wonderland is too trippy for me and Westeros is a pretty hard land where everyone wants to kill you, including George RR Martin, so that’s out too.

That leaves Hogwarts, Camelot and Middle-Earth. Hogwarts is nice but there’s a really dark undercurrent to those stories too and as much as I love Camelot, there’s an awful lot of betrayal and loss.

Which leaves Middle-Earth. While there’s fighting, there are also long periods of peace and a quiet life in the Shire sounds like a pretty good option overall. Plus there’s a lot of beauty in that world.

So I guess I’d choose the Middle-Earth door and try to have a quiet life.

That’s more or less how I answered on Facebook as well, except with a little more humour.

I spent a while reading through the comments afterwards as well and something occurred to me while reading them. The choices were split pretty evenly on the whole, except for Hogwarts and Middle-Earth which both had a slight advantage, but the most interesting thing was how the answers often seemed to reflect bits and pieces of people’s lives and personalities.

For instance, people who chose Narnia often said they did so because they related to the themes in the world, while others who liked Neverland said they liked the innocence of the story, and Hogwarts because they would have loved to have escaped like Harry did when they were young. And so on.

I find that fascinating, how a simple question can reveal so much about us. It reminds me of some of the tests psychologists use and I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere something like this is actually being used that way.

I thought about it for a while and came up with this to describe the traits based on the choices people made and the reasons they gave. I’m obviously not a psychologist so this is obviously highly unscientific(!) but these traits definitely seemed to come up again and again in the answers which I thought was interesting.

Narnia: someone who is quite religious or enjoys religious themes. Neverland: someone who is a child at heart and has a sense of wonder about the world. Wonderland: someone who is attracted to more offbeat, eccentric subjects and thinks outside the box. Hogwarts: someone attracted to escapism and wishes they could be/could have been someone else during their life. Camelot: someone who is a bit of a romantic and a traditionalist and often wishes for simpler times. Middle-Earth: someone who seeks beauty and/or adventure and is a bit of a dreamer at heart. Westeros: someone who enjoys testing themselves and/or has experienced pain and loss.

I doubt those would be accurate for everyone but they corresponded with a lot of the answers and I’d say they’re accurate for me as well. I would definitely describe myself as a bit of a dreamer, and I’d say I’d also relate to some of those reasons for enjoying Harry Potter and the Arthurian stories too at different times in my life.

Overall I found the question and the answers really interesting and it’s funny how something like a simple Facebook post or a blog quiz can reveal so much about us.

Sometimes I wonder what historians in five hundred or a thousand years will make of a lot of the data we’ve put online and what it will tell them about our lives. Because that’s what we’re actually doing by keeping a blog or updating social media, we’re creating a collective tapestry of life that will far outlive us. Which is a bit scary when you think about it. But pretty amazing too.

I imagine a lot of it will seem very pedantic and self-absorbed (because honestly, a lot of it is) but at the same time things like blogs and social media will be a real boon to them, showing what our interests were like, our speech and writing patterns, clothing, politics, etc. Even a simple question like this might provide a huge amount of insight.

Something to think about the next time we write a post or share something on Facebook or Twitter.

So which door would you choose and what do you think it says about you? I’d love to find out. 🙂

Childhood Heroes

Did you have a childhood hero growing up? Maybe a superhero you loved or a sports star who set the world on fire? Or maybe it was a parent or a family member who inspired you to try to be like them?

I had a lot of heroes growing up but I think most of all I loved the swashbuckling heroes from old adventure novels. As a child I used to read a lot of the children’s versions of classics like Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers and Treasure Island; I loved them to bits and used to love imagining myself as part of the adventure, fighting alongside the musketeers, etc.

I guess more than anything I just loved reading though… I devoured anything over the years, from The Velveteen Rabbit and The Selfish Giant to Black Beauty, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton… in particular The Fantastic Five and The Secret Seven were big favourites of mine and continued my love of adventure stories. I loved Timmy… I thought he was as brave (if not braver!) than any of the others and I’ve always wanted a dog ever since.

Around the same time I fell in love with the stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur, and a little later The Chronicles of Narnia. Part of that was because I spent several years in England when I was younger and was exposed to them at just the right age but I also think it was because the themes really resonated with me. Themes of good and evil, love and loss, sacrifice, are universal and are the perfect tools for teaching children about morality and right and wrong and I guess they resonated strongly with me at that age.

Dad and Chris (castle)Of all the heroes and characters I loved Robin Hood the most. I went through a stage for a couple of years where I pretty much devoured everything to do with Robin that I could. My parents bought me a costume and toy swords and I used to run around pretending to be Robin Hood vanquishing the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. We used to visit Sherwood Forrest and some of the castles in England, particularly Arundel which I loved, and I must have watched the old Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood film on video a hundred times.

We went to see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at the movies too when it came out in 1991, which was a bit of a funny story. We’d just moved back to Australia from England and my parents got the public holidays mixed up; they took me to see it on what should have been a school day. We wondered the whole time why there were no other kids around until we finally realised. My 1st year teacher seemed to find it funny at least.

So yes, I loved Robin Hood. He was my first big hero I guess and in many ways those stories and others like King Arthur and The Three Musketeers helped to teach me the skills I’d need growing up and eventually led me to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman and so many other stories I love now.

As I got older I found that my heroes started to change and in particular I started to admire real people more. I’ve loved tennis for about as long as I can remember and in the early/mid 90s Andre Agassi was my favourite player. I loved the flair with which he played the game and also the good works he did off the court. Even now, while I love watching Federer and Nadal, Agassi is still special for me and always will be.

I also enjoyed cricket growing up. This was the golden era of Australian cricket and my favourite player was Mark Waugh. I even wrote a letter to him when I was younger; my handwriting was atrocious in those days but I think it was the neatest letter I’ve ever written. I don’t think I ever got a response but I did get his autograph once.

The other player I really admired was Chris Cairns. Cairns played for New Zealand during the 90s and early 2000s and I loved the way he played the game. He is one of cricket’s great underappreciated talents in my opinion.

There were other people I really admired too. Learning about politics in school in the mid/late 90s I found myself admiring Bob Carr. I also quite liked Bill Clinton and Harrison Ford and I admired Nelson Mandela immensely.

But eventually all heroes must be tested, even ones in real life. And some heroes are destined to fall.

In mythology the hero’s fall is often the heart of the story and even in real life those moments that test us might be the ones that end up defining our lives. If you think about Robert Downey Jr, for instance, he went through hell but the way he has recovered from his darkest years has informed much of his success today. Likewise if you read the stories about King Arthur, the real drama and tragedy of the story comes in how Arthur is tested and particularly the price Arthur must pay for his liaison with Morgause, which eventually leads to his battle with his son Mordred on the fields of Camlann.

Likewise Star Wars isn’t really about droids and space battles, it’s about the battle for Vader’s soul and his fall to the Dark Side, and now Kylo Ren’s fall.

And that’s the thing about heroes. Whether they are real people or fictional, we want to believe in them, but we also like to watch them struggle. It makes for a good story. We raise them on pedestals and turn them into giants but in the end, heroes are human and flawed and capable of making mistakes. Sometimes terrible mistakes. Mistakes like flying too close to the sun, or taking performance enhancing drugs, both from hubris. It’s those potential for flaws that make them interesting.

My childhood heroes were flawed too, both in reality and in fiction.

For instance, Andre Agassi revealed in his autobiography that he used crystal meth in 1997, and worse still that he failed a drug test and lied to cover it up. Chris Cairns has recently been embroiled in a match fixing controversy and while he was acquitted, his name will probably forever be associated with it now, whether he was actually guilty or not. And we all know of Bill Clinton’s dalliances and indiscretions.

Mum and ChrisEven Robin Hood doesn’t escape scrutiny. Robin is usually presented as the archetypal hero but if you think about it, he is still stealing and committing vicious felonies. In fact, recently discovered text written by a monk in a medieval history book called The Polychronicon suggests that Robin Hood “infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies”, which is hardly a glowing endorsement.

There were actually rumours about ten years ago that a new film about Robin Hood was going to turn the story on its head and make the Sheriff of Nottingham the focus and Robin the villain. It eventually turned into a more familiar version of the story starring Russell Crowe in 2010 but I can understand more now where that original idea came from.

The reason heroes often fall in literature is because they are meant to be human like us. And the same is true for sports stars and celebrities, our modern heroes, who the media and fandom often like to worship like gods but are capable of the same mistakes and poor judgment as the rest of us. Whether they are Robin Hood or Andre Agassi, they may seem larger than life to us, but they can fall and fail, and that subsequent struggle is the thing that makes them interesting and compelling, whether in fiction or real life.

I mean, a story about a hero who always wins isn’t particularly interesting, is it? Nor does that story feel particularly real to us, because there’s nothing we can recognise in it. A hero who is challenged and fights and falls and gets up again is far more interesting, as that’s what we can see in our own lives too.

That’s why I think a lot of people were so enamoured with Agassi as a player and a man, for instance, the fact that he reached the pinnacle of tennis, fell on hard times, and then came back again was such an incredible story. And while his revelations are sad, they don’t change his feats themselves or the player he was. He is one ‘hero’ or star who is more interesting for his fall.

Maybe all that sounds a bit silly, holding up real people next to myths and legends, but we do idolise sport stars and celebrities and the hero worship some people have for them is almost scary at times. They’re heroes to some people every bit as much as Robin Hood or King Arthur or Achilles were. Perhaps more so, as their exploits are inescapably splashed across every tv screen and phone, and children look up to them as role models, making every failure and fall all the more problematic.

I guess I’ve always been interested in all forms of heroes and I find the psychology behind our need for them particularly interesting. The main reason we need them as children in particular is not so much make believe and fantasy as one might think but rather because they give a face to the human experience and in particular our own common cultural experiences.

Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With A Thousand Faces among other works, believed that the reason we create myths and heroes is so we can reflect common real world experiences in them, using those stories to draw inspiration and to help overcome challenges in our own every day lives. And that’s particularly important for children.

If you think about the common trials a child goes through on the journey to adulthood, it makes sense. When they are young they first try to find their place in the world and to assert their independence, then they move through school and have to navigate things like a social hierarchy and bullying. As they get older still they start to inherit responsibilities and begin to work, perhaps experience love for the first time, and begin to pull away from and challenge their parents. Perhaps they even have their first experience of death and loss. All of these things are different for each child but they are common themes right through childhood and it makes sense that we’d explore them through our stories and myths and draw parallels with similar journeys in sport, etc.

That is one reason why I find it odd when I hear people say they don’t like children, particularly boys, reading adventure stories and playing with action figures and pretending to be Zorro or Spider-Man or Han Solo, etc. Usually the reason is because they don’t want to expose children to violence and themes of death and destruction too early and whether that is healthy at all.

Birthday PartyBut worrying about that is missing the point. Children, particularly boys, need that kind of physical outlet and they usually won’t get into it until they are ready for it. But more importantly, an interest in, say, superheroes and wanting to play good guys vs bad guys actually isn’t necessarily about wanting violence at all; it’s a child’s way of making sense of their place in the world through play, becoming a superhero to give them a feeling of power and freedom in a world where they have to conform to the wishes of their parents and teachers. Similarly using weapons or superpowers in play isn’t so much about killing things as much as it is about feeling in control and being powerful. Most psychologists think it is very healthy behaviour and suggest that parents can even use it to introduce concepts to children.

In any case I dressed up as Robin Hood and played with toy swords and action figures and I think I turned out all right.

Anyway I guess the reason I’ve been thinking about this lately is because I’ve been researching mythological archetypes for a couple of story ideas I’m playing around with and as you’d expect Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, or hero’s journey, keeps coming up again and again. I’m not sure I particularly want to draw on that archetype – if anything I’m more interested in subverting it – but it has made me look back on many of the stories I loved growing up and think about how many of them fit into that structure. Star Wars is a well known example, as is The Lion King, and King Arthur and Robin Hood do too to a degree. More recently The Matrix and the first Hunger Games are prime examples and even The Wizard of Oz draws on it too. So I guess that really does show how most stories and themes have been recycled over the years.

The other thing they all have in common is that pretty much all of the characters from those stories are flawed in some way or other, which again goes along with the hero only being as interesting as the force that tests them. Which would seem like a good entry point for subverting the whole structure if I wanted to do that. Something to think about.

So looking back after all these years, do I feel any differently about my childhood heroes now? Yes and no. I still love the stories and legends of Robin Hood and whenever a new version is announced, I’m always excited about it; if there ever was a real Robin Hood though (which seems up for debate), that Robin I’m less enamoured with. I still want a dog like Timmy and still have a soft spot for Narnia as well, although as an adult I am much more uncomfortable with Lewis’s use of Susan at the end.

Andre Agassi I still admire a lot but I was disappointed to hear of his drug use and cover up and that will probably always be a bit of a sour note for me. Mark Waugh has become an interesting commentator and I enjoy listening to him immensely. Bill Clinton I still feel much the same about.

Chris Cairns is the difficult one for me. I admired him enormously as a cricketer and the idea that he might have played a part in match fixing of any kind tarnishes that memory. Nothing has been proven but it doesn’t feel quite right either. I’d have to say I treasure the memories of him as a player but I feel let down by everything since. It will probably depend on what his side of the story is when he eventually decides to tell it.

Regardless I am thankful for all of them though. They all played a part in my childhood and in making me who I am today. The stories they told me and the lessons they imparted will stay with me for the rest of my life.

And so whatever happens, in that way my childhood heroes will live on, like all good stories and characters do, in me.

I like that idea. 🙂

There’s No Place Like Home

Home 2Home 1

Do you ever wonder what it is exactly that makes a home, well, a home? What it is that makes something more than just a collection of bricks and mortar and instead a home, somewhere special that you look forward to coming back to every day?

I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot recently. Largely it’s been to do with the time of year as the festive season always makes me rather contemplative and there are many reminders of ‘home’ over Christmas; of buying gifts and going home for the holidays, of decorating your home for guests and loved ones, of music telling stories of loneliness and missing home.

Christmas can be a nice time of year but if you’re lonely or away from home or nursing a broken heart then it’s not much fun. The constant reminders of home and how Christmas is for spending time with the ones you love can be depressing. I must admit I’m struggling with that quite a bit this year and I’m feeling little desire to celebrate at the moment.

I think the other reason it’s been on my mind though, and probably the main reason, is that I was broken in to recently. A couple of people went on a rampage through my block of flats; they were after my neighbour initially who wasn’t there, then in a rage they started to destroy everything; they rounded on my flat next and smashed through the screen door and yelled and threatened me, before they broke the windows in the block and hit someone on the head as they ran out.

It was scary and it took a few days (and the door to be fixed) for me to start to feel relatively safe in my own home again. And yet, that’s the thing as well… I was upset and obviously scared but I actually felt very little about the break in itself, which surprised me. I thought I would feel angry or violated in some way but I didn’t. Which I think goes to show how little this place has ever really felt like ‘home’ to me.

I’ve been living here for a little over two years now since leaving Sydney and while I’m grateful to have shelter, a roof over my head and (relative) security, I guess I’ve never felt much attachment to this place. It’s okay as far as flats go but I took it out of necessity rather than because I really felt anything for it and I think that’s why it doesn’t really feel like home. It’s a place where I live and sleep and have created some wonderful memories – but it’s not ‘home’ and I don’t think it will ever feel like home to me, or the way a home should.

But how should a home feel? And have I ever really felt that? I’m not sure. There’s what society and Hollywood tell us a home should be like and I guess that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about it – the idea of a happy family living in a nice house, with a couple of pets, a picket fence and lots of laughter, etc. The kind of place you come back to years later and the place echoes with memories.

Of course that’s an unrealistic fantasy; no matter how much money you have, there’s no such thing as the perfect house, just as there’s no such thing as the perfect family, or the perfect you. Life is about compromise and working hard to make your life better and eventually afford the things you want; a lot of people though seem to want everything now without being prepared to wait and work for it and I think that’s why many people seem so unhappy these days. They seek instant gratification and in the end that only leaves them unfulfilled.

So no, that fantasy, which I think a lot of people have (particularly first home buyers), isn’t a home. It’s a lifestyle, a fairytale; it’s what we’re told life should be like if we want our happily ever after. A real home, is something else.

Personally I think a home is not just a place, it’s an idea. A ‘home’ obviously must be somewhere that is attractive to you and suits your needs but I also think as a concept it is much more fluid than that and what ‘home’ is is probably different and unique to every person. For some people the ability to get a mortgage and buy somewhere they like may be what makes that place actually feel like ‘home’ to them, because they know it is theirs and they can build their life there and make what they want of it. For other people a mortgage may mean little and it’s only when they have realised whatever work and life goals they’ve set for themselves and have more freedom that a place starts to feel like ‘home’. For some again it may be when they have children and a place fills with their laughter; for others it may be when their children have grown and the mortgage is finished and the next stage of life begins. I think a home can mean many things and perhaps in the end all that matters it is that it feels special.

For me I think home is not a fixed place at all and never has been; I don’t feel like I’ve ever really felt an attachment to a place, at least not that I can remember, nor feel like I will anytime soon, so for me I think home is the memories I have made wherever I’ve lived. It’s the memories of where I grew up; the memories of where I had my first kiss; the people I have shared my life with; the fun and laughter, the pets who brought me joy, the friends who stood by me; the moments I cherish and the sorrows that define me. In that way everywhere is home, and nowhere, as I take it with me.

Or, to borrow from Doctor Who, for me home is like a Tardis; it’s my heart and it’s bigger on the inside.

I used to think that maybe I was missing something because I didn’t feel a particular attachment to somewhere, to a physical home. Perhaps I still may one day, if I buy a place or have a family. But even then I don’t think it will be having a physical place that will make it ‘home’ for me, it will still be the memories and the life I bring with me.

And I think ideally that’s what a home should be. It should be what we bring and what we make there, not the place itself. I think a lot of people get too focused on buying their idea of a dream home and that’s another reason why they can feel unfulfilled, because in the end the reality can never match up to the dream.

I think that’s why I didn’t feel much after the break in as well as it’s just walls to me; they could have trashed it, set it alight, done anything, but all I would have lost were things. It would have been unfortunate but I wouldn’t have lost anything important and I have insurance.

It’s probably also why I’m struggling a bit with Christmas this year now that I think about it as well. This is the first year I’ve really been by myself. I wouldn’t say I feel lonely necessarily but I definitely feel a sense of loss this year.

Then again I often don’t get into the spirit until late. Maybe I just need a mince pie, put some music on, and create some new memories.

Either way I guess the important thing is to make the most of what we have. Home can be many things and come in many shapes and sizes but it’s what we bring to it that matters. In the end there really is no place like home.

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there ‘s no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which sought through the world is ne’er met with elsewhere.
John Howard Payne – Home, Sweet Home
From Clari, the Maid of Milan

Do we rely too heavily on technology?

GPS Locator Device

Technology is a wonderful thing. In many ways it’s why we enjoy a high level of comfort in our lives, improving our working and living conditions. But do you think our reliance on technology goes too far? Or is technology merely a tool for social development?

As a writer I’ve explored the moral and ethical use of technology quite heavily in my work but I’ve always had a favourable view of technology. However a recent experience has made me question that. I was shopping the other day, getting a couple of DVDs, and I was thrilled when I saw they were on sale; buy two and get 20% off the second. Perfect! So I grabbed both and queued up.

The woman who served me took the DVDs; the first one was fine but the second scanned up at full price. She didn’t know it was on sale, so I told her it was 20% off and she scanned it again but it was still the same price. She started to do it manually but said she didn’t have a calculator, so she didn’t know the price.

I was stunned. First, how can you work there and not know what’s on sale? But even worse – didn’t have a calculator? It was 20% off $30, hardly rocket science. Do we rely on calculators that much? Finally she fixed it and I paid for them and left.

I know it’s just a small thing but I can’t help but think that it’s symbolic of a larger problem. Just because technology is there and makes something easier doesn’t mean we should rely on it so much that we can’t think for ourselves. What happens when the technology fails? In April this year the London Stock Exchange was closed for 8 hours when a glitch shut down its system. They lost millions of pounds and all they could do was sit and watch. Should any piece of technology be so important that we can’t function without it for 8 hours?

It’s not just the way we use technology, though, but the way people obsess over it. Have you noticed how people can’t live without their mobile phones? If they’re not talking then they’re checking for a message that wasn’t there two minutes ago. Can’t we be out of touch for even a few minutes? And that’s not even mentioning the hype surrounding the iPhone. Or the Kindle. I don’t understand the fuss about the Kindle. I like ebooks but I can’t justify the price of a reader and I’m sure long-term I’d miss the touch and feel of real paper.

My point is that technology seems to have become more of a convenience than a tool. Let me ask you this. If civilisation were to fall tomorrow, could you survive without technology? How would you cook without electricity? How would you get clean water and travel without working transport? How would you stay warm? How would you protect your family and teach your children?

I’m not sure I could survive in that world; I doubt most people could. The civilisation that survived would be very different… but isn’t that the same argument pessimists have used against change since the beginning of time? Weren’t there doubts that other inventions would destroy society and take away our humanity just as people talk about computers and the net now?

I guess I’m conflicted. While I do feel that we’re starting to lose ourselves, I am also a big fan of the potential of technology. I have an extreme sensitivity to noise and being outside is like torture when I’m not feeling well. But a few years ago I found a pair of earphones that use sound isolating technology to block noise and they’ve been a godsend. So I know firsthand what technology can do for someone’s life.

If you think about it, the advances in technology (particularly recently) have been astonishing. Technology has brought us DVDs and iPods, microwaves and cameras. It’s taken us to the Moon, brought us images from Mars. And then there’s medicine. It’s not just the instruments and techniques but the way medical science has advanced. We’ve cured diseases, mapped the human genome; our quality of life is better than any generation’s and we live longer than ever before. And people who never believed they could have children now can. Looking at technology that way, how can anyone deny its impact?

And that’s not even touching on cyberspace. There are a lot of bad things about the net – porn, viruses, spam – but its benefits are far greater. While the net is primarily an information resource, its true power lies in that it connects people in ways we’ve never seen before. Previous inventions have brought us closer together (trains linked cities, planes linked nations) but the internet is the world’s first global community. The net is the future and that’s the real power of technology, to show the way forward.

But even in moving forward it’s still important to hold on to our values. Some advancements make me feel uncomfortable: gene therapy makes my skin crawl and I find the developments in artificial intelligence, while impressive, ethically troubling. Are we ready to create life? Like many people I’m also worried that our social skills are deteriorating. I’ve heard of people texting each other when they’re in the same room instead of speaking – and then there’s the Euricase, which allows you to propose to your partner without even being in the room.

So I guess when people say that we’re losing ourselves to technology, I agree to some extent. But I see the benefits as well and I don’t see why there can’t be a balance. If we can respect our past but embrace the future at the same time, I don’t see why we should ever lose who we are.

That’s what I try to do. I think I’ve found a balance and I’m not afraid of an iPod or an ebook; I just try to buy a CD and go to the library as well. I send emails and texts, but I don’t forget to say hi to my neighbours and turn off my phone. If we can do that then I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

The future will take care of itself.