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‘Disappear and disconnect yourself…’

A while ago the rock band Radiohead recorded a song called ‘How To Disappear Completely’. This week they tried to do just that.

Their website faded to blank. Facebook and Twitter feeds were erased, leaving only a mysterious Instagram clip. A clay model of a chirping blackbird.

This absence made the hearts of fans grow fonder, but Radiohead’s disappearing act was brief. The blackbird featured in a video for a new song, the album arrives tomorrow.

It was a clever marketing ruse, the band’s absence designed only to underline their presence. You can only reappear if you’ve disappeared.

But when everyone is linked in to everyone else, disappearing becomes more difficult. It’s harder to get away when we’re all wired up to each other. Sometimes all our links feel like a chain.

I once asked the late Irish writer, John O’Donohue, why he wasn’t on email. He said that he didn’t want to return from a walk in the hills and find 70 people waiting for him in the kitchen.
Later on he gave in, his kitchen soon heaving like everyone else’s.

It used to be simple to disappear into a good book but it’s harder when a smartphone looks longingly at us, begging to be held.

When a teenager fails to return a text her parents fear the worst – forgetting that such instant connection didn’t exist when they were kids themselves.

Of course, the prospect of forcible disappearance is haunting – and among the darkest acts of terror by a despotic regime is the disappearance of its own citizens.

But deciding to make our own periodic and temporary disappearances can be transformative.

In the same way that a good sleep invites the mind to untangle a knot of thoughts, so the act of disconnection can spark better connections.

I stayed recently with a dozen ancient nuns, among the most disconnected people you could bump into. In their local town, they might as well not exist. No-one sees them. They were off-the-grid before the grid existed.

Nursing a small existential crisis at the troubling lack of broadband, I picked up the welcome note. ‘You are here,’ it read, ‘To help store up the world’s collection of silence and stillness.’

These women chose to disappear from the world, in order to make another kind of connection.

As Jesus of Nazareth put it to friends, on one of his own periodic disappearing days, ‘Come apart to a deserted place by yourself and rest a while.’ Which being translated means, ‘Log Off’.

Tell your phone it’s nothing personal as you pop it in a draw. Go for a wander with no destination in mind. Vanish into the diary you wanted to write. Push open the door of an empty, silent church.

Shun electric wire, communicate slowly, says the farmer-poet Wendell Berry. ‘Live a three-dimensioned life, stay away from screens.’

Disconnect and disappear yourself… just for an hour or two.


(Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Saturday 8th May, 2016)