We live in a society that caters for every desire, from public transport systems, to candy stores, to sex shops, to Instagram. Their purpose is to supply us with instant gratification. Every action we take is fueled by the belief that the world has been created for us.
Convenience forms the foundations of civilization, and therefore to truly escape from society’s confines, we must attempt to rid ourselves of it.
I was leaving Stockholm, Sweden, a city with one of the highest quality of life rankings in the world, to go traveling. My first stop was to be Grebbestad, a tiny fishing town on the West coast of Sweden.
I stayed in a red summerhouse, built by Patrik’s Grandfather in the 1950s. The ground it sat on wasn’t landscaped, the rocks were not cleared. It was perched on the cliffs, adapting to nature like a gull or a tree. It felt like it had always been there, really. Like it was a part of nature, instead of resistant to it.
Things were simpler here. I thought of my Stockholm life, the clockwork calculation of it all, the way that everything felt so easy. It bored me. In Grebbestad, I had to make friends with the house spiders. I had to cycle over cobbles in the rain in order to bring home groceries. I wanted to lose my way, sometimes.
Every afternoon, I cycled to the sea’s cliffs, abandoned my bike in the bushes and hopped across the rock pools, edging closer to the waves. I always felt myself there. I tiptoed across the rocks with bare feet, a knitted Norwegian sweater wrapped around me, unwashed and stale from sea salt and sun.
I believed that I had overcome the need for society’s interventions. I was free, at one with nature, now. But one afternoon, I struggled to descend down to the water. Instead of using my intuition to navigate across the cliffs’ crevices, I did something strange. I looked for the path. My eyes tried to trace where the stepping stones would guide me, the “right way”.
My vision glazed over and I saw what really was: jagged cliffs, swamps, and moss; forged by nature, indifferent to me. I was trying to find a path within the rocks as though they were carved out for my convenience. The stepping stones I sought were invisible ones.
Design has a noble purpose; to simplify a complex world and to shortcut difficult journeys. So instead of planning a route, we wait for the path to appear. But often, it’s a faulty one: we swipe on Tinder when we are lonely, check Facebook likes when we are low on self-esteem, and depend on restaurant reviews instead of tasting the food ourselves.
It’s difficult to grow and develop as individuals when the services we use spoil us without teaching us. I believe that we are living in a society that is becoming full of assumed paths to take. How many times have we all looked for invisible stepping stones in the form of google searches, fast-track career paths, or how-to books?
The natural world is chaotic and it can be made more convenient by design. But design can never replace our own intuition or instinct. We can’t always take the easy road; sometimes we need to find our own way.
My looking for the path in nature was just a momentary mistake. But it taught me so much about how I had started to view the world. I don’t want to follow well-trodden paths anymore. I want to be like the red summerhouse, stubbornly sitting in a place I don’t belong, not expecting nature to make it easy for me, but adapting anyway.