Cerys Matthews: “We have to embrace the digital world – but we must take time to unplug too”

The former Catatonia singer is the queen of digital radio. So why is she so keen for her children to switch off?

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I don’t know anyone of my generation who isn’t struggling to get their head around all the media forms we now have at our fingertips. Take “selfie” culture, for instance – the pressure to photograph your own mug with everything and post it online in as many formats as possible. I know it’s the way of the modern world, but it’s not my cup of tea and it makes me worry for the younger generations.

When my children use the internet, I sometimes think that they might as well be roaming the Wild West – it’s that unknown. I’m far from alone in having parental restrictions on my home computer, but, like most parents, I also know that it’s pretty pointless: as soon as the kids – who are 12, ten and five years old – leave the house they have access to the most appalling websites on their smartphones and other people’s computers.

Kids today can’t imagine a world without this portal to their alternative virtual planet, but I like to encourage their interest in the real world – in getting their hands dirty, lighting fires, skinning rabbits… It’s a conflict I struggle with.

Earlier this year, my 6 Music show was officially pronounced the most listened-to show on digital radio – which means that I am seen as someone who embraces this brave new digital world. Which of course I do. Yet at the same time, I do wonder about the effect it will have on us all.

At the moment I am trying to get my kids to consider whether following particular people on Instagram really improves the quality of their lives. Perhaps it’s too philosophical a question for a child to grasp, but I ask regardless. I want them to be able to question the impact of technology themselves. I want them to start to wonder whether it is actually life-enhancing to document everything or spend time watching complete strangers broadcast random elements of their lives, live on Periscope.

It may be a cliché, but I really do believe that the best things in life are free and they’re about experiences, not shoes, cars or contouring make-up. These days we are so rarely reminded of how much goodness there is around us just for the taking – the balance of our lives is completely skewed.

Which is why I have helped to set up a festival championing the great outdoors – the Good Life Experience, in Flintshire. There are the usual things you expect at a festival: literature, good food, great music. But there’s also the added attraction of a great big dollop of outdoor adventure. What ten-year-old child doesn’t want to fire an arrow, carve wood, star-gaze or build a campfire?

The one thing all the kids talked about after last year’s event was how much they enjoyed picking their own sweetcorn and cooking it on the fires. That simple pleasure was more memorable to them than any tweet or Instagram photo.

This year we have a café run entirely by children – adults won’t even be allowed inside! I’ll have to report back on how that one turns out. But it’s about letting the children have their freedom. As we speed into the future with our gadgets, I’m trying to offer an antidote with a weekend of slow, hands-on life.

And as we sit behind our screens, watching, following, working all hours in all places, the simple life of yore begins to look more appealing. The success of series like The Great British Bake Off is a case in point. We have to embrace the digital world because it’s our future – but we must take time to unplug too.

Cerys Matthews presents BBC 6 Music on Sundays at 10.00am. She also presents The Great Songbook on Tuesday at 11.30am on Radio 4.

The Good Life Experience festival will taker place from 18 to 20 September at the Hawarden Estate, near Chester. See thegoodlifeexperience.co.uk.

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