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Something to hold on to when you feel you’re about to fall

In an age when so much seems ephemeral and artificial, Ali Clarke welcomes some simple ways to feel more grounded in life.

Dec 07, 2023, updated Dec 07, 2023
Photo: Cottonbro studio/pexels

Photo: Cottonbro studio/pexels

We’ve all heard of the tipping point: that moment when a lot of small changes or events add up to become big enough to incite a larger, more important transformation.

We’ve heard it about climate change, social movements and even marketing. It registers in medicine, history and nature.

Without these little nudges predicating large change, one can easily believe we would still be sitting on a moss-covered rock waiting for the invention of fire.

Well, I was tipped over the edge the other day and whilst it was not anywhere as momentous as the abolition of slavery nor the collapse of an ice sheet, this personal tipping point has changed my thinking from forward to backward. I’m desperately hoping it’s not just a function of age because I’m quite enjoying the change.

It happened courtesy of three relatively small incidents, in short succession.

The first was a trip to the letterbox to find none other than a handwritten letter.

On beautiful, creamy paper with a GSM to rival an elephant, it lay among the other standard bills and brochures like the pearl in the oyster.

With penmanship reminiscent of The Book of Kells, a wonderful friend updated me on her life interstate. As her words flitted between news of her children and old school friends, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the beauty, by the romance of it all.

It felt heavy in my hands; it felt tangible.

The second incident arrived courtesy of pop icon Taylor Swift.

I got to hold and explore an LP for the first time in years, one of the “Taylor’s Version” re-issues – Taylor Swift’s way to wrest back ownership of her back catalogue after a dispute.

I was never a massive vinyl girl – I just wasn’t cool enough. I often felt like an outsider as various mates debated the minutia of The Stones, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

Most of my favourite bands of the ’80s and early ’90s didn’t last long enough to have enough tracks for a full album and so my music was mainly contained on EPs and (even worse) cassingles.

Still, they gave me the wonder of a sleeve filled with information and photos of the group I was desperately in love with for that particular nano-second of my teenage years, even if I was dancing around to something that sounded like one bloke with a heavy case of auto-tune and a drum machine.

But those albums, this new one from T-Swift felt real. It felt tangible.

And so, to the third incident.

The other day, I found out social media influencers have been using Artificial Intelligence to create the content that most of us are spending a vast proportion of our lives consuming.

And, even worse, AI has been creating complete digital avatars that have ended up with more followers than most of us put together.

That’s right.

We are now living in the age where the humans are following the robots and the robots are calling the shots, not just in terms of precision or automation, but in setting taste, desire and societal direction.

My personal tipping point has meant I’m spending more time reflecting on those things we have seemingly lost in our rush to move forward

Now we can’t even tune in and trust that the person telling us what to covet is a human being at all, and certainly might not be the person we think we’re taking our cues from.

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What an amazing example of something completely and utterly intangible.

But so what?

This dichotomy of technological advance versus the pull of nostalgia and connection to the “real” has me at my personal tipping point.

Whilst I find myself marvelling at how technology has changed medical science, education and artistic experience, I despair at how modern advances have put our heads in our phones and taken away those things that seem to be more… well, authentic.

In short, I miss reading and holding those damn handwritten letters and I wonder about the life my 13-year-old is hurtling towards as she chases the latest thing or craze on YouTube or Snapchat.

This is not a nostalgic rant about how we used to be out riding bikes around the street until mum called us in for dinner: rather, my personal tipping point has meant I’m spending more time reflecting on those things we have seemingly lost in our rush to move forward, or, more specifically for some of us, as we’ve been pushed aside in a race to find the next newest thing.

Remember the moment you first wrote your name in a book, or even better, when you were given one by your mum and dad and it had a list of names recording who it had been handed down from?

That won’t be happening for this next generation, as their iPads and Kindles will need updating every few years.

Further, when I look at my children’s scrawling handwriting I firmly believe it is quickly becoming a lost skill despite our (and their teachers’) best efforts.

My wonderful letter-writing friend had to plan, and exhibit discipline and a level of care for her missive: you can’t just delete something already written on paper. There’s no backspace in handwriting.

There’s no going back in this cultural transformation, too. We are on this ride, for better or worse.

At times, though, I need to reclaim moments of genuine connection by maintaining a link to those things we are now being told are old-fashioned: things that are physical and require thought; things that I can touch, feel, smell and trust.

I guess in the end, they ground me… so I don’t feel like I’m tipping over.

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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