For proof that these bundled minor virtues don’t amount to freedom but are, instead, a formula for a period of mounting frenzy climaxing with a lapse into fatigue, consider that “Where do you want to go today?” was really manipulative advice, not an open question. “Go somewhere now,” it strongly recommended, then go somewhere else tomorrow, but always go, go, go—and with our help. But did any rebel reply, “Nowhere. I like it fine right here”? Did anyone boldly ask, “What business is it of yours?” Was anyone brave enough to say, “Frankly, I want to go back to bed”?
Maybe a few of us. Not enough of us. Everyone else was going places, it seemed, and either we started going places, too—especially to those places that weren’t places (another word they’d redefined) but were just pictures or documents or videos or boxes on screens where strangers conversed by typing—or else we’d be nowhere (a location once known as “here”) doing nothing (an activity formerly labeled “living”). What a waste this would be. What a waste of our new freedom.
The Autumn of the Multitaskers
It took me ~4 hours to read this article because I was simultaneously working, chatting, listening to & downloading music, sorting through 50+ firefox tabs, emailing, eating. I multitask compulsively, and I’ve been doing it since at least middle school, when my brain was particularly vulnerable. These days I have to remind myself to go to bed and to eat breakfast (not that I was ever particularly good at those things), as checking email (which of course leads to web surfage) is so much more natural for me.
The only good news is that last paragraph is that a) I finally recognize that as a human (as opposed to a brain in cyberspace) being I need sleep and food and b) at least one of those 4 hours this morning was spent getting brunch with friends, eating outside, delighting in real human contact.
How pathetic is it that I can get cheap thrills just by leaving the house without my cell phone, no credit card, just a couple dollars in my pocket. How daring, to slip my hand into my pocket and not be greeted by my trusty time piece and communication device! It actually feels like I’m doing something vaguely dangerous. What if someone tries rapes me and I can’t call the police? What if someone tries to mug me but I have no wallet so they decide to rape me instead? What if I get lost and can’t call a friend to google map it, or pay a cab to take me home? What if I engage in conversation with someone attractive but can’t check my text messages, thus proving I have friends, during the awkward pauses? What if if the trees and the clouds get boring?
But I could easily give up the phone, on an emotional if not practical level. I hate phones, their intrusion on the outdoors and public spaces, their closed networks and the big corporations who run them. I resisted the phone as long as possible, until more than halfway through high school, when my mind was a little more durable. I’m a social phone user, I do it so I can interact with my peers, I can stop when I want.
Its the Internet I abuse: Email, IM, Web. Such delicious freedom, the ultimate home for my nocturnal, curious, cowardly mind. She’s given me so much that I didn’t realize what I’ve been missing. My only hope is for my laptop to get destroyed, and to not have enough money to replace it.
Its not the computer’s fault though. Its the culture. Recently I’ve had these moments where I have some revelation about life that seems so fucking profound. Then a couple days later I’ll realize that to most anyone in the past my brilliant thought would have been so obvious as to not even warrant a mention. This phenomena is perfectly captured by a review of Michael Pollan’s new book:
Do we really need such elementary advice? Well, two-thirds of the way through his argument Pollan points out something irrefutable. “You would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact and healthy,” he says.
Its not just our food culture thats fucked beyond belief. We interact with each other through screens, even when we share a physical space, selecting from a menu of avatars and then dueling with each other in our living room. We are surrounded by lies, both factual– the US government– and emotional– the airbrushed images of pseudo-happy pseudo-people trying to sell us shit. We probably spend more time looking at pseudo-people than at actual people. Food is something with a cartoon character logo that you buy in the store and marriage is about being a princess for a day and smiles are for selling toothpaste.
So look, until all this is fixed, I’m gonna have a hard time abandoning the seedy but sincere streets of craigslist and youtube. It takes about 50 tabs (of firefox, silly), some music, a couple IM windows, and an email client to keep me my mind simultaneously stimulated enough to not be bored and distracted enough to not feel lonely, aimless, or anything else. Totally stimulated, totally numb.
Anyway, read that article about multitasking. Really well written, almost like turning on the webcam in your computer and just watching yourself, except ocassionally the cam slips into xray vision mode.