Saturday, March 10, 2007

Walking and computers

click photo to enlarge
There seems to be a general feeling that computers are good for democracy. Supporters of this viewpoint cite the Chinese government's restriction of its citizens' access to the internet as telling evidence of the proposition. And it's undoubtedly true that they give the individual in a society access to information, the means to manipulate and interpret it, and the power to communicate with the like-minded and our politicians.

However, computers can also be used in an anti-democratic way too. Most notably they allow governments, through the amassing and manipulating of data, to believe that they are in a better position to direct and organise society, than are local people and local politicians: they are a dangerous, centralising force. Take the current panic over childhood obesity. The government has collected data, is collecting more, and has come up with an answer - more physical activity in schools. Surely I'm not alone in thinking that if overweight children is the problem, then making them jump about in schools isn't the answer. But, computers in the government's education department know, to the minute (they think), how much physical activity school children undertake each week, and it's not enough! So the decree went out that all, throughout the country, should receive a minimum of two hours weekly during school time. Money was spent, organisers were appointed, and a grand strategy involving webs of high schools with feeder primaries were urged into action. It will have virtually no effect! Child obesity will only be solved by deep-seated life-style changes that include eating better and eating less, and walking and cycling more. This involves government leaning on food companies, planning for bikes and pedestrians, restricting cars, and yes, education, but in the widest sense. However, those strategies don't make politicians very popular. It's much easier to have a grand, trumpeted, school-based initiative and look like you're doing something!

One thing I've started to notice is that when I go walking the majority of the people I see doing it for pleasure are "older" people. If I go to the "honey-pot" locations like the Lake District, the balance shifts towards the younger end, and organised groups of children and young teens can be seen. But elsewhere it's mainly the "oldies" - like my wife and I - people for whom walking has been a lifelong way of getting about, and a source of enjoyment. The photograph shows my wife climbing a stile over a limestone wall on Gigglewick Scars in the Yorkshire Dales. I framed the shot so the wall acts as a line leading to the figure, or from the figure into the surroundings. The image was taken with a wide zoom lens at 44mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/400 second), ISO 100, with -1.0EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen