The term “media bubble” has gained much currency over the last 12 months, and can describe either the set of supporting opinions and narratives you can wrap yourself in, particularly on social media, to blind you to the prevalence of other opinions, or sometimes the bubble that much of the media themselves live in, cushioned by a reinforcing set of beliefs by similar Islington/Guardian/BBC/Salford/NYT or whatever circles. It is particularly easy to sucked in to these bubbles of unreality if you choose to stay on the main roads digitally, and never explore off the beaten path in search of interesting views and conflicting opinions.
I like to think of myself as intelligent and grounded enough to see through and step beyond the bubbles (though that might be part of my own particular delusion).
But I cannot deny that I am living inside a media bubble of a different, more tangible kind, one enforced by geophysical realities.
This is the view from the top of the hill above my house, looking towards another hill, close by. I live down in the narrow valley hidden between these two hills, and there is a further hill out of sight to the left.
The exact location is unimportant (I value my privacy) but for our purposes you need to know that this is in the Midlands of the Republic of Ireland, just about within commuting distance to Dublin (if you are prepared to accept a two hour commute) and not beside either the east coast, or the border with Northern Ireland.
Thanks to the local geography, I effectively have tens of thousands of tons of solid rock and earth on three sides of me, and a clear path leading North West. This has the effect of blocking every Dublin based FM transmitter, and most from other areas, and clearing the band to give a free run for everything from Northern Ireland. As I drive around this big hill on the first 5 or 6km of my morning commute, I can choose from BBC Radios 1, 2 and 4, BBC Ulster, and Downtown Radio (Belfast) all crystal clear on FM. Of the Dublin stations there is nothing for the first few km, until they eventually come back in again, in some cases on top of the NI transmitters. (We can however receive RTE Radio 1, and Newstalk, which are national, and have transmitters elsewhere than in Dublin)
The same geography enforces internet isolation. There is no wired broadband in this valley, nor ever any prospect of such. The mobile signals are too weak – nothing from 3, and just a -120db signal from Vodafone on 3G only (not 4G) . You can use a Vodafone broadband device, but the speed is less than a tenth of a meg.
So we have satellite broadband from Europasat, which works exceptionally well, and gives us speeds of around 26Mb. (That’s nothing special for you city dwellers but a huge step up from 0.1 Mb I can tell you!) One of the delightful things about this is how it seems to confuse some of the geo-sensors on the web – if not logged in to YouTube, the adverts will always be in Italian for example (another bubble).
I leave home early in the mornings – 0520 four days a week – and my routine in the car now involves a 10 minute circumnavigation of the UK via the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4.
If the signal lasts long enough, I’ll catch the 0530 news briefing too, then it is over to podcasts.
The fifth day a week, usually Mondays, I’m off to work even earlier (see above!) and then it is a toss up between the World Service on FM, or BBC Radio 1, where this morning Jordan North was playing some fine tunes (standing in for Adele). After all my years spent living in the UK, and now 17 years back here in Ireland, it is strange to have this juxtaposition of the two as I have my choice of British stations on FM as I wind my way along very rural Irish back roads in the early dawn.
There is, of course, one other issue brought up by my situation.
Go look again at the photo from the top of the hill, and the landscape around.
I have said I live in the Midlands of Ireland, which I do, Everyone knows the midlands are flat, and I live in a county which is known to be flat, fertile farmland, with few distinguishing features.
Known, that is, to everyone who only ever passes through on the motorway and main roads, and who never take a turn off to explore the side roads, and see what different views they might encounter. It’s like a physical version of the internet :-).