In a digital world reconnecting to the tangible is essential
We need to make sure to put the time in our lives to engage our other senses: touch, smell, and taste. Otherwise, we’re ignoring what it is that makes us human
I work in IT for my day job. That means I spend my day in front of a computer typing commands into a Linux terminal, reading and writing emails, and talking on the phone. I’m also working on a daily writing habit in my downtime. Which, you guessed it, means even more time in front of a computer typing away.
Even before I’d started working on my writing, I was still spending a lot of time on my phone or watching TV. It’s a common trend these days. We spend an excessive amount of time in the digital world.
Doesn’t it seem a bit too much sometimes?
Don’t get me wrong. I love much of what the Internet can offer. The ability to connect with my mother over Facetime every weekend has made my living on a different continent not seem nearly so far away. I owe my livelihood to computers. I’m still going to rely on them in my plan to transition into a creative life.
I wouldn’t give up my digital life, but doesn’t it seem a bit too much sometimes? I’m a firm believer in maintaining some balance in your life. The way I approach that is to make sure I give time to other things to balance myself.
For example, when I was miserable working in a call centre job. I knew I couldn’t do anything about the eight hours I was at work, but I could make sure that I filled my time outside of work with as many great things as I could to counterbalance that.
Similarly, I’m finding that much of my life these days has me working with intangible digital things. What I’m finding immensely satisfying is to balance this out with some time reconnecting with tangible things.
I’ve written before about learning to knit several years ago. I find it can get quite meditative for me. I tend to fidget with my hands when I’m sitting still, and this gives me something to keep them busy.
The whole point is this is about the feel
Aside from that, knitting or crocheting, which I’ve never really picked up, is wonderfully tactile. I started with cheap metal and plastic needles that had belonged to my grandmother but quickly moved over to wooden and bamboo. I also splurge on the highest quality natural fibre yarns I can find. The whole point is this is about the feel.
Integrating this into my life has been relatively easy, as I can work on quite a few patterns while watching TV. It’s multitasking, but where I’m engaging a different sense that seems to work for me. Then as a bonus, I have something I can hold in my hands at the end to show for the time I spent.
Sourdough was a more recent discovery for me. For the past year, I’ve been baking with a sourdough starter. I hope to have an article out soon discussing my year with sourdough. Again, it’s a tactile experience. You have to get your hands dirty and work the dough.
As you gain experience, you can feel how the dough is developing. The way it stretches as you fold it, pulling against you. The air squeezes out as you press down. Then you shape the dough, trying to use as little flour as possible while not having your hands stick.
This year I also spent quite a bit of time training on a bicycle for a charity bike ride. This training had me spending several hours each week in the gym on a spin bike, as well as going for long bike rides on the weekends.
I connected with the physicality
In this case, the experience was different. It’s less of a tactile feeling, but more the feeling of pushing your body. When you get into the right rhythm, you feel as if your body and the bicycle are one. Where I otherwise don’t get much exercise, this was a significant shift for me. I’ve always enjoyed cycling but had fallen out of it a few years prior. This time I connected with the physicality much more than I had in the past.
A couple of weekends ago I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for some time. He also works in IT. He commented that he’d taken up woodworking. He spoke about it in much the same ways I have with my hobbies. We both talked about how good it feels to work on something that you can touch.
We need to ground ourselves
In my reconnecting with tangible experiences, I’ve come to believe that this is something we need in our lives. We spend so much time on computers, dealing with the virtual world. We’ve become detached from the physical world. We are physical creatures. We can reproduce sight and sound over the Internet, that’s it. We need to make sure to put the time in our lives to engage our other senses: touch, smell, and taste. Otherwise, we’re ignoring what it is that makes us human. For me, it’s been that reconnecting to touch that I’ve found especially rewarding.
Andrew Dacey is a writer and storyteller. By day he works as an IT professional, managing a global operations team. Andrew is a geek who’s heavily involved in playing tabletop roleplaying games and tabletop board games. His other hobbies include photography and knitting. He lives in London with his research scientist partner.