Sweden. Day 12. The sound of a tree falling.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If I write a daily report from Sweden but no one reads it, does it even exist?

Walking around the local forest here at Björkö, you will notice several fallen trees, here and there. And today, it was very windy. When I was out walking today, I could hear the trees creaking and I could see their tall tops bending with the wind. I was told that most trees fell years ago, during a huge storm, and that there is no risk of any of them falling right now. Still, it can be a bit unsettling, just the sound of them, and the idea of one of them falling on top of your head. That must hurt.

As for writing: my impression is that social media and the ubiquity of smartphones has been, in general, a negative influence for those who like to read and write. I used to have a blog in the 1990s, and quite a fee people read it; I also used to read a lot of blogs back then. Today, social media has and taken over and people became used to read just very short texts or to click “Like” on pictures. That’s all. Anything that lies outside that very shallow universe doesn’t exist. Even on social media, long texts or opinions who go beyond the current “conventional wisdom” are ignored, when not directly censored. There is no stronger force for conformism than social media. This is not helped at all by the little pop-up messages and links that the social media giants forcibly put on anything you post, especially if it is a political issue or anything related to “vaccines”. It is as if they are telling you what you need to think, and you can’t go beyond that.

But it is what is happening now, and of course smartphones are not ideal for reading or writing — not even for watching movies, which increasingly people do, to the despair of someone like me who grew up watching art films in giant screens in movie theatres.

Enough digressions. Continuing with the daily journal, today I went to Väddö, which is the upper part of the island, and it’s not really much different from Björkö, except perhaps seemingly being a bit more populated. At least I saw more houses, some even with people inside them.

Perhaps what I miss more about this experience here up north is meeting more local Swedish people, to see how they live, what they do, what they eat, and to live more in contact with them, being part of their daily lives. It is not completely isolated out here, and Swedish people appear to be gregarious, if not as much as Spanish or Italians, at least more than the usually more suspicious people in the part of former Eastern Germany where I was before. We were invited once to have a barbecue by some neighbours, even if we were complete strangers, and people always say “Hej” when they cross each other on the road. But in winter there are really not so many people around, so even such instances are rare.

In the 60s and 70s, apparently quite a few Swedish people lived in “hippie villages”, following an ideal of communal living and sharing, and even free love and drugs and all that stuff. (The nice Swedish film “Together”, from 2000 but taking place in the 1970s, talks with bittersweet humour about all that, both the good and the bad parts.)

It didn’t quite work, and I can see why, and I don’t see it coming back. While I am not exactly the hippie type, in some ways, I think it is a bit sad that it didn’t work, and having a bigger sense of communal living would not be completely bad.

The process of social isolation and increasing individualism started decades ago, in Sweden as in other parts of the world, but, in the Age of Covid, we seem to be drifting to each time more “social distancing” and distrust of other human beings, who are seen only as “dangerous viral vectors”, instead of as neighbours or friends. But, perhaps, one day we will return to a more normal life. We can dream.