When the US philosopher Henry David Thoreau took his year out to live off the land in 1845, he lamented the swift rise of modern communications, writing in Walden of “pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things”. To him, that meant the newly invented telegraph machine; his 21st-century counterpart has smartphones and the avalanche of social media to contend with.
Ida Beate Loken, a 19-year-old Norwegian student, has been living in a cave at the foot of a mountain since last May, sleeping on a bed of straw and sheepskin and collecting rainwater to wash with and drink. Sitting on a rock surveying a landscape bathed in sunshine, Ms Loken does not look like she misses the daily demands of Twitter, Instagram and shopping malls.
“It does something completely different to you than waking up in a bed, when you don’t want to get up and go to school,” she says in a video made by the local newspaper Firda. “But waking up for a climb through the scree is quite fun – you get a completely different hiking experience and respect for nature, and experience different birdsongs around you.”
Ms Loken was inspired to change her lifestyle by a boyfriend who had previously occupied her cave. She concedes that living outside by choice is “pretty weird in the society we live in now”, but was still shocked by the most common question people ask when they find out about her unusual abode: “Most people just wonder how I charge my phone – I think that is excellent proof of the society we live in and how incredibly dependent we are on the luxuries around us.”
This video first appeared on Firda
It’s no paradise: the ceiling tends to crumble away in her hands, a stray cat ate her butter, and when it rains she has a slippery and cold climb home after a day’s studying at the Sogn Agriculture School in Aurland municipality. But she has no plans to abandon her home under a boulder.
“Home is where your rump rests,” she says, quoting Pumbaa from The Lion King. Being 19, she takes her cue from Disney rather than Thoreau, but her description of eschewing consumerism for a life in the great outdoors could easily have come from his pages. “It’s all about the gadgets we own,” she says. “I have found that I don’t even use half the things I own. I sent a car-load of things home. And then another. Even then, I found that I didn’t use all the remaining things.”
But she is not entirely cut off from modern technology. Ms Loken is a member of Norway’s Green Party, and needs some way to communicate her message. While Thoreau published Walden, Ms Loken has Facebook, posting updates on issues such as recycling and sustainable land use. She also has worried relatives to placate, especially after her mother saw the precarious scramble over moss-covered rocks she has to make each day. “She made me promise to send her a text each night saying I’m alive,” Ms Loken says, though quite how she keeps her phone battery charged remains a mystery.