Home or Away? (Cecilia Peartree)

These days I often think about the Edinburgh Book Festival, usually with a heavy sigh and a feeling of tremendous nostalgia. The other day, about five minutes after attending an online literary event and still with slightly blurred vision from staring at my phone screen for an hour, I was checking Facebook to see if anything had happened there in the mean-time when I noticed a plea from a researcher asking for people to complete a survey about whether they preferred online or real-life events. Not only do I enjoy filling in surveys, or at least I do when I have time to spare, which I often have at the moment, but having only just experienced an online event I thought I could probably contribute something to their research.

Bookshop at the Edinburgh Book Festival

I realised as I answered the survey questions that I was in at least two minds about this topic. So many different factors are at play. There's the difficulty of getting to real-life events and of squashing myself into uncomfortably small seats, particularly as I get older. On the other hand, I always enjoy the sense of occasion and the opportunity to be in the same room as people I admired, and perhaps even to ask them questions, in the unlikely event that some other audience member doesn't monopolise the time available for questions with a rambling monologue about an irrelevant personal experience. The event can be turned into an opportunity to catch up with a friend, go out for coffee or lunch, go on somewhere else and make a whole day of it, or simply to browse in the bookshop, in the case of the Edinburgh Book Festival, and find new books I haven't even heard of before. One of my best friends and I have had theatre season tickets together for years. Sometimes we go out for lunch before the play, and sometimes we drop into the Filmhouse for a baked potato afterwards. I feel more and more nostalgic as I write!

During the past 18 months or so there have been more opportunities to take in events covering all kinds of topics. Even just on Facebook there are interviews with authors at least once a week in a crime book club I'm a member of, and regular online conferences about Scottish family history, another of my interests. I've attended several online folk music festivals*, listened to and watched plays online and on the radio, watched random events via Zoom and started an audiobook subscription. That isn't the full extent of my cultural activities - I signed up to a screenwriting course the other day on impulse and I start learning Frisian on the 1st of March, a date which seemed a long way away when I first registered for it but which has come round rather too quickly.

*In the case of the online folk festivals I very much doubt if I would have attended the events in person. I think the last time I went to a concert that wasn't classical and very formal with proper seating was probably when my brother persuaded me to get us both tickets to see The Who at the Oval cricket ground in the early 1970s.

I've experienced quite a few issues with access to these online events, and I've often had to switch devices at the last minute because I couldn't get Zoom to work on one of them. If anything, oddly, Facebook can be more reliable across devices, but I seem to have something in my settings that tells videos to play as soon as I come across them, which can be quite annoying but can also be better than not being able to play them at all. There is also a problem with focussing the mind on something online when all sorts of other things might demand attention at the same time, whether they are cats, other people, or noises from incoming texts. And the act of focussing on people talking on a screen is actually quite tiring, as I used to find with work meetings on Microsoft Teams and online museum conferences that went on for most of the day. Real-life museum conferences are definitely more fun, particularly in America where I discovered they have cake and ice-cream breaks at regular intervals!

At a museum conference (at the BFI in London)

As a fully paid-up introvert I was almost certain I would come down on the side of preferring online events if it came to the crunch, but on reflection I am not so sure. When I glanced through some of my photographs just now I realised how much I have missed going out and about and seeing different places, both in my own city and elsewhere, and how much I enjoy sharing experiences with others, even if I don't actually have to speak to them! At the same time, I would quite like to be able to continue having the opportunity for increased choice that's possible with online events, and I hope some of this will continue into the future.


Eden Baylee said…
Hi Cecilia,

At first, the online events were a novelty and seemed fun. I could watch (or just listen) to a talk, and be doing something else at the same time.

I meet a friend daily for yoga and/or a drink using zoom, and I have meetings with other writers. It's good for chatting but I much prefer in person art gallery visits, book events, and festivals.

Hopefully we return to that very soon. Stay well,
Reb MacRath said…
I too hope we can return soon to personal meetings and gatherings. I know that life and business must go on, but the online affairs are sorry substitutes to my way of thinking.

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