Emerging from lockdown, the masses are mapping out their summer migrations. People aren’t flying far from the nest, only venturing as far as British seaside hotspots and highland peaks. In our last February edition, Theo Dingwall-Main wrote on the loss of cultural authenticity and restricted travel as a result of the pandemic. We have reduced the world to location tags and google searches, however we seem to have shrunk the world again by only seeking adventure on our doorsteps.
The government has just announced a traffic light system for international travel, assigning each country to a red, amber, or green list. Although it is reported that only eight countries are likely to be green-listed as a safe holiday destination, this announcement indicates that more avenues of travel are opening back up. Yet there seems to be a national hesitation in pushing to escape the country, and perhaps a hesitation in escaping the lockdown. According to Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. The third national lockdown lasted 98 days. This is more than enough time for the habits that developed whilst trapped in our four-walled microcosms to become ingrained. We have adapted to the new normal and, as a result, are committing to the familiar this summer.
For many, the pandemic has just led to the realisation that travelling overseas is not worth the hassle. Writer Caroline Eden said, “we’ll swap Austria for a weekend camping in the Cairngorms.” The heather blankets that coat the moorland summits and vast lochs that pool at their feet are less than a day’s drive. This definitely seems a worthwhile trade for endless Covid testing and rushing through duty-free, just to show off your tan at the next socially-distanced outdoor dinner party. Plus, hiking holidays have become all the rage, with an increased interest in exercise and walks being our daily treat to escape our homes. There has been a 200% increase in the usage of hiking trails around cities since this time last year. Even if we fancied a change, the ambiguity of the traffic light system means that trying to leave the country is pretty convoluted. Thinking, ‘oh wouldn’t it be fun to fly out to Spain this summer’ is not as harmless as it might seem. There’s the usual drama of which London airport it’s best to fly from and via which airline. Then comes harassing Google for answers about Covid restrictions on leaving the UK. Then, time to put on your deerstalker as the real investigation begins into the regulations of your chosen destination.
Over the pandemic this sort of information has been flying around in overwhelming quantities, with little sense of what to follow and how to find it. The ‘waves’ of movements, ideas and concepts have built into a tsunami and we are drowning in it. The algorithms, messaging communication, soundbites and AI developments are all too much to keep up with. The new information that’s constantly thrown at us is far more than we are designed to process. Once we have understood one thing, another one comes along. Take the infamous Bitcoin. Many have spent the past year trying to get their head around the idea of using binary code as a form of payment. I did the same when researching my Crypto Cheatsheet article last year. Forget blockchain, now people are paying millions for non-fungible tokens, which we hadn’t even heard of at the start of this year. These new innovations are not just grasped through searchable definitions, but through layers of complex programming and controversial debates. It may be why this is being called the ‘Information Age’.
You may have just zoned out once I mentioned Bitcoin, and this is the root of our retreat into the known. Since a basic understanding is pretty useless when competing with young people who’ve been trading digital currency since they were 14, many avoid it completely. We are taught that it is important to try new things, but the exhaustion of sieving through facts and figures in an attempt to understand, is causing us to find comfort in familiar things. Last weekend, some friends suggested that we check out a local farmers’ market in Hexham, Northumberland. Whilst I was picking up fresh apple juice (the sharp, tangy kind that you can never find in supermarkets), my friend rushed up to me with feverish excitement, her hands full of paper bags. She explained that she had found dahlia tubers, perfect for the windowsill garden she had designed over lockdown. Her horticulture bible had assured her that they were the flower of the season, ready for planting in sunny May. As funny as it was that she is 22 with a passion for plants that connotes a midlife crisis, it was interesting to see that our lockdown hobbies seemed to be integrating into our lifestyle outside of the pandemic. I entertained this thought in conversation at lunch and she replied, “I really love how simple it is to look up a plant species in my bible, follow the planting instructions, care for it and watch it grow.” It seems that we’re stripping back from the constant noise of life to brute facts about primitive things. Lockdown trends have manifested themselves in out-of-lockdown activities such as foraging and candle-making. Another of my friends has turned her new obsession with crafts into a franchise involving Zoom calls where she teaches others to do the same. These sorts of start-ups are becoming increasingly prevalent, made possible by the use of Instagram as a marketing platform. Over this month I have been followed by students selling coin earrings, crocheted dresses and spoon rings.
As the floodgates have opened, people have not rushed from their homes as forcefully as anticipated. Instead, people have trickled out in their own time, staying within the comfort of their homes and the local English countryside. We have become domesticated and have found enjoyment in the things we understand, to avoid the air traffic.