The Third Leader: Contemplative order

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The Independent Online

Reactions to the news that 10 million people a day log on to a website to watch a bald-headed eagle in its nest will be mixed. Some will be uplifted by such interest in nature, others marvel at the irresistible communion of cyberspace, and others, less charmed, will wonder if these people have nothing better to do, and on whose time, exactly, they're doing it.

Down here, we prefer marvelling. Perhaps, we reason, enlightened employers are encouraging their hard-pressed operatives to take a brief break and place their efforts in perspective and context by observing the rhythm and cycle of life. Better, too, and cheaper, we should have said, than sending them out there in goggles with paintballs, and certainly less damaging to environment and habitat.

I myself rather missed the accompanying whispers of an Attenborough or an Oddie, but that is merely evidence of a lack of cybermaturity, marked by a continuing failure to engage with the webcam. I glanced at the Cambridge coffee percolator, I dipped into the Pitch Drop Experiment (last drop, six years ago), but my search for the Watching Paint Dry site was, I'm afraid, distracted by some very interesting material on, naturally, www.independent.co.uk.

The virtual, of course, can only reflect the real, including our predilections for the freakish, the sad, and the rude. But true watchers are discovering the instructive contemplation of eternity which was once confined to the monastery, Chekhov characters, cricket spectators and people waiting for Virgin Trains, metatarsals to heal, or politicians to resign. Some good webcam ideas there, by the way.

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