Perils, Wonders and Learning
to “be” in a Networked World
Hi, I’m Chris. I make things out of code.
I want to tell you a bit about what happened before and during a recent holiday.
This isn't going to be 5 minutes of holiday photos, so don't worry.
What I really want to talk about is balance.
It’s incredibly important to our well being and psyche.
We now have these devices that can connect you whenever and wherever to friends in time
Sadly Sam has learnt that what you do first thing in the morning is drink tea and check Twitter
on your iPhone.
I became a father just over two years ago. It’s amazing. I want to be a good dad.
It changes your perspective more than you can ever imagine, it also changes the balance of
your life and moreover brings work/life balance into really sharp relief.
I felt I'd got work/life balance sorted pretty well, but also felt there was something quite
That something I thought at first was play.
Play not necessarily in a phyisical sense but by being playful.
Making fun games for the Hide and Seek games festival for example
But there was still something missing. In fact it was the absence of nothing. Being. Just
It really struck me one day when I had a meeting cancelled and went to have a coffee.
Then the phone rang and I answered emails and checked Twitter and that time had
Hours spent digitally
Hours spent sleeping
Hours spent with family
Hours spent being
I'd had a growing fear that the digital world had me slightly trapped.
I’d read and work and chat to people until 2am then get up at 6am when my son woke up
And 4 hours of sleep I had felt like hours I had to catch up.
I had to read what was going on. I considered making a Twitter client which wouldn’t have the
gaps in the stream that lots of clients did.
What was first distraction from insomnia was now distraction from sleep. What was a
communication medium was taking away my very being.
I needed a holiday from everything. To learn how to switch off. To be.
And to understand where balance was. I didn’t know what the pattern of life was or how it fitted
I had levels of needs/desires. Family, friends in the world, friends in the verse. Work.
But I had no ideas how they fitted together.
Someone who I love dearly asked if I wanted company, I said please don’t think I’m being rude,
no thanks I just want solitude.
What I realised as I said this was I hadn’t really experienced total and absolute solitude for a
But I also felt guilty. This curse I that felt would be a luxury to others.
There would be many people who either through recession or where they were born would not
have a holiday.
Many wouldn't know the meaning of the word.
Initially I thought I could give the money the holiday would cost to a charity.
But that would serve no one. Especially not me or my family.
I really wanted to go walking in Austria and I wanted to see trains. I like trains.
I came up with a solution. I decided to devote my holiday to fundraising.
I could take the walks I'd planned to do, but go further, push myself harder, do
longer ones and get sponsorship for them.
I decided to do it for a lovely charity called Child’s I who are trying to build a
special orphanage in Uganda.
And they’re doing it with no charity staff and with a some very smart people
using everything they can in terms of video and interactivity and communities
So I did what all good geeks do when planning a holiday. I bought a domain name and made
It pulls in content from Twitter, Flickr and has maps of where I was going to walk each day.
Obviously I was going to need to take some kit with me to do this.
I underpacked obviously. All of this ﬁtted into my hand luggage which is a wonderful
I really love data things that Twitter so I became fourwalks for the trip
And I built an Android app that sends a GPS position up to a server so that people could see
where I was.
Taking on an alias also allowed me to play with concepts around storytelling, suspense and
voice that you can’t do in conversations
As I started the walk I started to feel very primal, suddenly I could think about nothing and
I could look around me at the scenery. Ponder the world I live in. Miss the people I love.
Think about philosophy and theosophy.
I was. I could “be”.
The original stations would appear now turned into dwellings.
I could think of what had been there before the line closed.
Before the internet, before mobile phones, before the web and APIs.
Somehow I appreciated them more and saw them less as tools. Less as shackles.
@fourwalks raised £120 of target £500 as he
completes first walk. Please support @jaggeree
& @childsi http://www.justgiving.com/
They delivered magic. At about 3km to go on day 1 I was really tired. I had a blister forming. I
was cold and wet.
Then this arrived and I was almost in tears as I walked. This is over 1/4 of the rent per month
for the orphanage.
Fancy a virtual Sunday
morning stroll in Austria?
@fourwalks is doing it for
@childsi here http://
four.walks.at/ it's great
stuff to follow!
The next three days had glorious sun.
I also noticed that people were following along and talking about it.
I was very touched when Tom Watson tweeted about how geeks can bring a trip into your
Data + Time = Story
Beer + Train + Sun = Magic
For years my father has kept meticulous diaries of holidays I now know why. I can literally
retrace my steps. I still have this beer bottle. I have my artefacts both physical and digital.
I can now feel what it feels like to stop and just be.
I’d wanted solitude and got so much more. Augmented solitude. I also now have more life
balance and I can touch and feel how it is to just be and can imagine it and ﬁnd it again if I
I now have some fun code too and some interesting ideas about how to make fundraising
It’s 4000 miles from London to Kampala and we’re hoping to walk it together 1000 people 4
miles each for Childs I.
I hope you’ll join us. It’d be lovely to have your company.