Friday, September 24, 2010

Awake and Offline

Inevitably awake and asleep at the wrong times.  Four hours until I get up for a meeting and here I am in bed, typing away.

I think I might try a few days of internet isolation.  It's not like I post to the blog on a regular basis.  People read the blog on a less than regular basis.  If I deactivate or unplug my wireless card...  Just to see if I can get the words flowing again.  Just to piece together the sort of running internal monologue that used to, I think, flow through my days.  Nicoholas Carr has a point.  We think differently, in an age of broadband.

It's not like I don't have enough free time.  It's just that, sitting down at these machines, these marvelous distraction machines, entire days go by and all I've done is work my way through my Google reader queue and browse for ebooks that I don't buy (or I download a bunch of free, old ones I'll never read) and scroll mindlessly through whatever dreck my subconscious says is worth looking up or clicking on.  It's pacifying, relaxing, the way folks used to like to watch TV.

But I used to hate to see people watching TV like that.  I couldn't understand it.  And I swore I would never be so pathetic, as to do such a thing.  But good god.  Click click clickety click on the internet, to no end and for no end.  I know Cory Doctorow can handle it.  Can get books written and blog communities together and build an entire career on it, in fact.  The poster child for the distracted but productive modern superman.  

But my poor brain.  It needs the linear, focused passage.  I was raised on typewriters and piano practice, and told not to bother doing something if you weren't going to do it right.  In retrospect, those activities and principles were not the best to build a future life on, in the twenty first century.  My job is an exercise in multi-tasking.  It gets easier with practice, but I'd do better if mom had put an iPhone in one hand and a Nintendo controller in the other.

So, if no internet for a few days...  Well, I've got enough content on these computers and in this house to keep myself entertained for a year.  It shouldn't be a problem.

Really, I could roll this sort of self-denial into better practices for daily living.  Like jotting down the things I need to research (when there really is a thing I need to research), and then waiting for an allotted hour to get the research done.  Like back in the day when you'd go to the library to check your facts.  My online hour.  Just one.  Maybe I could post any composed and brilliant thoughts to the blog in that precious hour, too.

Limited access: because when we can do things anytime, we don't respect our time.

Here is a quaint memory:  I used to write a monthly newspaper column for our local weekly.  I remember mailing mailing it in, stamp and envelope and all, the week before it was due.  And if I was running late, I'd ride my bicycle over to the offices and hand it to the editor.  This was how content was delivered.  Research was done at the library, words were typed up at home, and work was brought to a building.

Newspapers.  Were those ever cute, or what?


I remember talking to this girl in high school.  She seemed very smart - honors classes and all that - and very pretty.  She was the sort of pretty that comes from training to be a ballet dancer for the first sixteen years of her life and then her breasts came in just a bit too grandly and there was the end of the ballet dream.  So when we had a conversation I was inclined to talk to her a great deal about everything that came to mind, since when a girl like that is listening to you, you'd better be ready with something to say - especially if you couldn't get by on your looks.  I'd go on about Stephen Hawking and the philosophy class I was taking nights at the community college and whether the rules of mathematics had to be the same in all universes and whether piano keyboards would look different if we had an alternate history where the dominant tonal mode somehow settled into a different pattern of whole and half steps.

She listened politely to a lot of this and then asked, "What's it like inside your head when you're not talking?"

"Pretty much like this," I said.  And then, suddenly horrified by the alternative, I asked, "What's it like in yours?"

"Really," she said, "most of the time...if I'm not doing something, that's just...quiet."

"No words at all?  Just silence?"

"Well, maybe I'm thinking about my homework, or dancing.  Just a little.  Or, if I'm watching TV, of course there's the TV.  While I'm watching it.  But no.  Otherwise, it's just quiet."

"So, at lunch, riding the bus, taking a walk, lying in bed at night, there's no words gnawing away at you up there?"


"Just quiet."

"That's pretty much it."

It struck me as a tremendous and tragic waste that such a smart and pretty girl could pass through so much life without a single thought in her head.  And back then, I had no idea what that kind of silence could feel like.  It was inconceivable, like trying to imagine what you're going to think about after you die.

The ironic thing about that she's at an Ivy League college doing research into brain structure and the physical roots of consciousness.  So a mind that was just...quiet apparently worked just fine for her and her career.

I skipped college altogether.  And now my brain lapses into long passages of silence that shock me with their breadth, at their conclusion.  Some of those silences are filled only with the clicking of a mouse and flashes of content that are gone as soon as they flash across the retina.  Maybe if I take away some of those flashes, the silences can open up and fill with words once again.

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