Having lived fairly remotely for well over a decade now I can attest to how it shapes one’s thinking about the world. Being in rural central Ontario is hardly far from civilization however there are many challenges and you wonder how on earth anyone lived here prior to the telephone being invented. Being connected is probably the most important issue for a rural artist. Connectivity comes in many forms, the internet being just one. Roads, the transport of goods and services, emergency services, health services, as well as the wired world are necessities that allow small rural places to work.
While urban dwellers revel in the renaissance of localization and desiring of all things made just steps form their door – us rural communities while also going through a great enlightenment about local fare and trade need more to sustain our small worlds. We need to also be a part of the arteries and corridors to which all of life travels. How else do we ever understand our world without the experience of being part of it if only as a parcel ordered online or a book from a Toronto library or a meal expertly made by someone trained in busier place?
I admit to being somewhat loathe to use the word connectivity as its buzz word status and TED talk cache makes it part of growing trend in our world of using marketing phrases instead of actually expressing the complexity of issues. Marketing has won the war of words and we now regularly describe things in a lexicon better suited to ‘wow factor’ settings and power point presentations than actually talking to each other. I do it too, all the time and in fact I can get distressingly confused when I use marketing phrases un-ironically only to find that in fact irony would have been a better thing to express.
But connectivity as a word works because we are connected now in a vast amount of ways. We connect through the internet, through travel, through consuming, through our food, through our politics, our beliefs, and almost every experience the world can offer. Just purchasing a household item at HomeSense can make you connected to Bangladesh, micro and macro economics, the shipping industry, trade barriers and transactions, fossil fuel, geopolitics, varied labour and retail practices and the fashion industry. When you live rurally this comes into focus very sharply; rural types adjust over time to essentially being uninterested in constantly consuming and begin to think about it as an unusual or intriguing activity not just a daily experience.
We thrive best when our little dirt roads and quiet hamlets are interrupted occasionally by the ‘outside’ world. We do not need to swim in its steady flow of information and events and prefer not to – inertia is balanced by disruptions in the form of new people, new technology and inevitable changes in the world. This pace is envied. Visitors always find that our lives here must be ‘peaceful’, ‘relaxing’ and ‘heavenly’. There are now several studies on this very idea: a UK government study which states that 1-4 people in that country suffer from depression and other mental illnesses to which ‘green’ activities such as farming seems to help and a Stanford University study that shows how the brain is relieved from stress through experiencing the natural world.
It’s hard to write about this kind of thing. Everyone has a deep and extraordinary experience of the world but when all I hear most of the time is birds, distant cars occasionally and wind the mind does in fact rest and things in there become more vivid. I don’t think I’m smarter because of it unfortunately and I am not certain whether it has benefited me or not. I am however full of joy more often than sorrow and that is an enormous difference than when I lived in the city.
Isolation however must be balanced in both a metaphysical sense and a real world sense. On one hand you need to be with your species as Maude would say (see image), you do, I can attest to this. Otherwise you get weird. You also need to know that the other exists and this is where technology has really helped (or hindered, depends on world view) – technology is an extension of our conscious desire to connect to the other. While fighting on Facebook with strangers may not seem like a very enlightened way forward, it is but the beginnings of a technological manifestation of how we connect; messy, fraught, tenderly, with compassion, with hatred and with humour. It could be our undoing; it could be our greatest moment. We don’t know.
For artists, we have always made our own technology in order to make what we make, this kind of hyper connectivity we live in now is challenging but not entirely destructive. We rural types know this because we HAD to evolve. You can’t live where I do without screens on your windows. One day, generations from now someone living in my log cabin will say, “how on Earth did those artists live here without ___________ ?”
Hopefully the birds, distant cars and the wind will still be the only sounds.
Photo from Google Images