Blogger and nostalgia-enthusiast Alan Burnett discusses the positive influences that technology and the internet has had on his life as he gets older!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself (a mini bio!)
I was one of those people lucky enough to grow up in a post-war world where there were plenty of jobs and opportunities and where it was not seen as a sign of fecklessness to drift from occupation to occupation until you found a job you enjoyed. Thus, I worked as a bus conductor, local government officer, warehouseman and what would now be called a spin-doctor before settling down as a lecturer in economics and European affairs. When I was in my early forties I lost all my hearing and this meant that I spent more of my time writing rather than teaching, especially in the field of Labour Law and European Social Policy. I am now retired and living in Yorkshire with my wife of forty-plus years – a retired doctor – and my time is divided between walking the dog and a little harmless blogging.
2. What made you start blogging?
Back in 2006 I took the decision to close down the European information service I had been running for the previous ten years. I had also been heavily involved in running the local Heath Trust and that appointment also came to an end. I started blogging as a form retirement therapy as I adjusted to my new lifestyle. The posts were not really intended for other people, but as a personal record of the kind of thoughts and recollections we all have as we sit down and ponder what has gone on in our lives and what is still to come. I think it was three years before someone else – other than my wife and son – read any of my posts, but over the years since then I have been lucky enough to pick up hundreds of regular followers from throughout the world for my blog (which is called News From Nowhere).
3. What is it about blogging that interests you the most?
I love writing and I love images, but it is the combination of the two that I love the most. I am a great admirer of the kind of photo-journalism which flourished in the forties and fifties and which was represented by magazines such as Picture Post. Blogging provides you with the opportunity of creating your own mix of words and images, your own magazine, and make that available to anyone who wants to read it anywhere in the world. Blogging can be anything you want it to be : an on-line diary, a sounding board for your views and opinions, explorations into your own and your family history or memories from a busy and varied life. It is relatively easy to learn the techniques, simple to connect up with other like-minded people, and once you have a computer and internet access, completely free of charge. There are few rules and the only demands and deadlines are those you set yourself. Most people have something to say – blogging provides an excellent means of sharing your thoughts.
4. Your blogs mostly include subject matter with a historic or nostalgic theme, could you tell us why this important to you?
As you get older, nostalgia becomes a much more important element in your life. As we age we may perhaps lose out by a decline in our energy and agility, but we gain in accumulated experience and that ever-expanding portmanteau of memories that we all have. In the past, parents and grandparents would pass down this store of family myths and legends by word of mouth because families lived close together and story-telling was an important part of life. In the modern world that is not always possible, but blogging can provide an effective means by which the past can be saved for the future. I suppose I blog for my son and for my grandchildren that are yet to come. But in a strange way I also blog for my parents and for the generations that have gone. We are the fortunate generation that stands with one foot on each side of the digital divide. We were brought up in a world of postcards and letters and dog-eared photographs and have retired into a world of e-mails and smartphones and social media. We have an opportunity to make the best of the old available to the new. This can be anything from digitising those old family photo albums to telling the story of your life or the life of your parents or grandparents. It is an exciting challenge; a challenge that keeps me blogging.
5. What impact has using the internet had on your life?
As I mentioned earlier, my life was powerfully affected by the experience of losing my hearing when I was in my late thirties and early forties. I found myself having to suddenly adjust to a world where it was very difficult for me to communicate with other people. This coincided with the very early days of the internet and other forms of electronic communication such as Prestel and Compuserve; systems that all relied on the written word (or typed word) rather than the spoken word for communication. I discovered that by using such systems I could communicate with other people throughout the world much better that I could communicate with the chap next door over the garden fence : the technology meant that everyone was reduced to my lingua franca, the typed sentence or the short text. The internet may not have saved my life, but it was to a certain extent responsible for saving my sanity. More recently the miracle of digital technology has managed to restore a large amount of “hearing” (through something called a cochlear implant), but like a good friend who was there during times of trouble, the internet has always been and will always be, a very important part of my life.
6. Are there other ways in which you embrace the internet or technology in general?
I must confess to being a confirmed “techie”; one who has enjoyed a long list of serial relationships with all manner of smart phones, tablets, lap-tops, and desk-tops. My iPad is the first thing to be switched on in the morning and my Kindle reader usually remembers to switch itself off ten minutes after I have fallen asleep at night. I have been known to sit in a crowded room and text someone sat at the other side of the room. When I am away from a decent wifi signal my wife says I become impossible to live with. But, as I always say, you should stay loyal to old and trusted friends.
7. It seems as though you have embraced the digital world, would you encourage other people your age to do the same? If so, why?
Of course. The internet is not intrinsically bad, nor is it intrinsically good. It is nothing more than a platform for you to do what you want with. But given a little spare time and a little familiarisation, it can open up so many doors and offer so many fascinating opportunities. It is the most important technological development of our lifetimes, it would be sad to limit it to just the young.
Alan Burnett’s blog News From Nowhere