Tag Archives: island

Lessons from Lockdown


Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “A day without learning is a day wasted” so today I have tried to draw some lessons from the strange circumstances that we now find ourselves in. As I look to pass my 100th day in lockdown and working from home, there are five strong messages that have become apparent to me.

Continuity of work

Although my work has a different dynamic these days, it has continued relatively smoothly in my new office environment at home. Much of my work was already in the online environment, with email communications, videoconference meetings, and discussing web-based resources with distance-learners. In this new situation, I am aware that I have been luckier than many others, but I am also aware that lots of my regular work colleagues are in a similar position to me. We have swapped the financial and time costs of commuting to work with the extra costs and time spent at home. We may miss interaction in the same physical space, but there have been some amazing and innovative ‘workarounds’ that have brought some groups closer together, extended networks, and enabled a ‘new normal’ form of work to continue with scarcely a blip.

The global shift to online

After a faltering start, it has been impressive how many individuals, businesses, organisations, and services have quite comfortably shifted their activities into the online environment. In addition to my work with the university, I have been impressed by my recent personal experiences in interacting with the HNS, with Third Sector voluntary organisations, and with retail shops and outlets that previously did very little, if anything, using the online environment. Even the government is having its fling with business-as-usual-at-a-distance. Some would no doubt never have made such a move unless they had been forced into it, but many have discovered that there are real benefits to working online, including greater geographical inclusion, cost-saving in travel requirements, asynchronous viewing of missed meetings, and so on. How many of these newly realised benefits will continue to be pursued after lockdown ends and some sort of pre-COVID19 reality returns remains to be seen?

A fortunate space

In the offline world, there are also revelations. A rural environment, in particular, the Isle of Lewis, (and even my specific village) has long been my preferred bastion of retreat. The necessary restrictions of social distancing and locked-down premises, has brought into sharp focus the many benefits of living in a beautiful, safe, and spacious personal location. If I have to withdraw temporarily from the world and ‘self-isolate’, I cannot think of anywhere that I would prefer than precisely where I am now. I realise, of course, that a great many people do not have that option, and I wonder to what extent this realisation, in combination with the previous point on shifting possibilities for distance-working, will mean that we might see a renaissance in thinking about rural areas as ‘the place to be’ once things eventually begin to settle down. Certainly, the flight of some urbanites to the safety of their rural homes might be a sign of things to come. The rural idyll is dead, long live the rural idyll.

The intensity of connectivity

Nevertheless, despite all of the benefits of being able to buy online, work online, communicate online, and more or less continue life with some veneer of normality (whatever that was) there are gains and losses in the current iteration of normality. Although I am accustomed, indeed habituated, to email communications and videoconference discussions, the present emphasis on these options and these options only, can take its toll. I am fortunate to have a distinct study-place, but its proximity to the bedroom, kitchen, garden, and the croft outside, means that I need to be more disciplined and more regulated in my distinction between work and play. This is difficult for a person whose job is interesting and whose idea of fun is what they are already paid to do for a living. As the lockdown continues, I see growing frustration and (say it gently, but say it) mental health issues in some of my colleagues. Across a table, there is some physical distancing, but when the computer screen is barely 30cm from you, the person on the video-link ranting on their personal soapbox is literally in your face. The interconnectivity of the internet, despite it now becoming recognised as a great leveler and all-encompassing source of information (not all good), means that whenever I end a meeting, somebody, somewhere else, knows that I am ‘free’ and seeks to make contact. A strict self-policing of my ‘availability’ needs to be implemented!

The darker side of social media

Despite being an enthusiastic, (no, that’s not correct) an atavistic user of succinct social messaging (i.e. Twitter) I have recently experienced, much to my surprise, (after 40 years of online activity) some of the unsavory aspects of ubiquitous online accessibility. My simple response to an incorrect post led (with frightening alacrity) to a spate of online messages pointing out the error of my ways. It didn’t matter that the (perhaps, positively intentioned) people posting those messages know nothing about me, or that they obviously had only read part of the (very short) post. Undoubtedly there were some naïve comments and some genuine misunderstandings that would normally have been speedily resolved, but there were also some pretty nasty Trolls. The frustration of not being able to set the record straight, the disinclination to throw oil on the fire by responding, and an almost physical revulsion to some of the posts, was a strange combination. I can truly empathise with people who have been the subject of online abuse, false accusations, and spiteful comments. Subsequently, a subject expert (unknown to me) wrote a post to substantiate my original point, but the damage had been done. Now reaching for my mobile phone has a hesitancy that was not present previously when I went to check-up on comments from my friends and colleagues. Do I block these Trolls? No, for the present I simply ignore them, for I am very comfortable in my own skin and among those who actually know me. It has, however, presented a distasteful glimpse of the future online that is every bit as unacceptable as racism, misogyny, civic violence, sectarian bigotry, and the fascist intolerance of political diversity.

Welcome to the new normality.

Quantum landscapes


After posting a couple of blog articles recently, https://idruhi.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/where-and-what-is-here/ and later https://idruhi.wordpress.com/2020/05/21/development-place/

that talked about “the other landscape” and how places can be imbued with characteristics and features that are apparent to some people but hidden completely from others, I received quite a few emails. Fortunately, none of them supposed that I had been talking about supernatural attributes (perhaps they know me too well) but I was surprised how deeply the concept seemed to resonate. Several people genuinely wanted to explore in greater detail this idea of how we might come to appreciate, and possibly explain, what we might mean by “a sense of place”.

The following might bring some enlightenment, or it may simply confuse the issue further. What it certainly will not do is to help you to understand quantum physics (in as much as anyone ever really understands it). Nor is it advisable to take the comparison too literally- it’s really only an analogy. The following is a suggestion for an alternative way of thinking about “the other landscape” that I hope will clarify, (but don’t get sucked into pseudoscience).

When we look at a landscape, or immerse ourselves deeply in a place, we see it as a certain reality. There are many ways in which we can measure or describe that reality. Some obvious factors that could be employed are the physical parameters, the latitude, longitude, and altitude of the place. Then, expanding the idea of place beyond a single spot to encompass an entire section of the landscape, we might add a consideration of the aspect (the direction it faces – sunward or shade?) as well as the complete hydrological system, the soil types, the covering vegetation and the habitats that they provide for the various species in that place. We might ponder the atmospheric conditions of the place (weather) and the climate (the effects of weather over a long period of time). Then, of course, there are the impacts of the human species on that place, both the physical imposition of changes (roads, farms, drainage, buildings) and the intangible aspects of society and culture (legends, stories, songs, old images, names on a map and other heritage examples). There is the terrain (the surface features of the landscape spreading out before us) and then there is the terrane (the geologist’s three-dimensional block of Earth that extends a place below the superficialities of the surface to include the rock strata that quite literally supports the world we walk upon).

All of these multifarious factors contribute to the creation of a place, and of course, they all change over time. Here is the quantum comparison, though, because this perceived reality not only is different for every person looking at that place, it is also different for each individual every time we look at the place. Although some changes may be invisible (the subterranean flow of water, for example) other differences only become known slowly (learning a historical anecdote connected to a place) or remain forever hidden from our deepest awareness (like the nocturnal movements of an otter or the unfailing attachment to place by migrating birds). All of these different realities of place are real, but the reality is unique to different people and different times simultaneously. Like Schrödinger’s cat, which quantum theory indicates can be both dead and alive at the same time, the quantum landscape is both the same (in memory, at least) and intrinsically different every time we perceive that place. It is changeless and at the same time constantly changing.

To make sense of this paradox we can adopt the realisation of quantum mechanics that multiple realities coexist (indeed, multiple universes, apparently) or we can simplify (as many physicists do) and try just to understand more deeply, more completely, the singular reality that we personally perceive, feel, smell, touch, and enjoy at any one time. Avoiding the wormhole of postmodernism that seems to deny any objectivity in anything, we humans have the advantages of being able to communicate in networks (that we call community) and that we are able to share and agglomerate our knowledge, and even our subjectivities. This facilitates multiple interpretations and empathies of what a place is, what a place means. We can attempt to express that sense of place through writing, arts, photography, film, or utilitarian social activities. Or we can simply enjoy the quantum variations of place – the differences between the static fluctuations and the (de)localisation of the observable. Enjoy your weekend, in whichever place you may be.

Stereotypes and cliches

Stereotypes and cliches

Over the last couple of days I read “The Lewis Man” by Peter May. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t bother. It is marginally better than his first book in the trilogy, but so full of minor errors, one-dimensional characters, and annoying cliches that it is distracting! It got me thinking (again) about how the Highlands and Islands are portrayed in popular (?) fiction. It appears to be acceptable, fashionable even, to denigrate rural places and rural cultures as brooding, wind-swept, backwards (add your own favourite prejudice) while cities are, by default, sparkling, exciting, etc etc. It seems to me that the UHI is well-placed to lead a counter-position that lays an emphasis on the positive sides of our communities – the beauties, the freshness, the contemplative, the innovative, and the delight in the community of good people. I finished work for the year today, and 2014 promises to be roller-coaster ride of wonderful new challenges, including how we make this distributed, high-tech university step up to make its mark.


Frustration with the dynamics of a network where some people seem to think that important things can (should) only happen at a centre. How can an integrated network have a centre? I firmly believe that we can dissociate a centralised function from a centralised geographical location. In the UHI, the huge videoconferencing network is co-ordinated from Shetland – which I am sure most people would agree is not a “central” location (apart from those people who live in Shetland!) I thoroughly approve of this, and I wish other “centrallised” functions would be geographically de-centrallised. I think it would benefit the entire network to ‘walk-the-talk’ and commit to the fact that Inverness is not the automatic choice of university functions that are established to benefit the whole network. With decentrallised communications and an efficient transport system (ten flights a day from Stornoway – I can leave home at breakfast and be in London/Paris/Brussels by lunch-time) – why do we cling to this comfort-blanket of co-location in an over-priced urban office?