But our reality, some blend of print and digital, material and immaterial

The more we use our screens, it seems, the more power we assign to books as objects, and to turning their literal pages as a timeless icon of languor. But our reality, some blend of print and digital, material and immaterial, is perhaps no less picturesque. On this beautiful summer morning, while finishing this piece, I was happily distracted by the Twitter feed of a poet named Jeremy Proehl, who, like the mad, poverty-stricken Romantic poet John Clare, inscribes his verse on birch bark. Clare, who also concocted his own ink out of “a mix of bruised nut galls, green copper, and stone blue soaked in a pint and a half of rain-water,” was after permanence, not planned transience: he would not recognize his art in the notion that Proehl’s own bark poems will “fade and break apart in the weather.”

The Internet has no weather, and these dissolving poems will be preserved in every state of decay. What part of my summer morning was “reading,” and what part of it was distraction? Once I put the period on this sentence, I’m headed outside with a copy of John Clare’s poetry, along with my phone, in case I need to look up some images of chaffinches, hedge roses, or whitethorn shrubs.

~ Dan Chiasson, from “Reader, I Googled It” in The New Yorker, August 26, 2019


Photo: Jeremy Proehl – “I write poems on birch bark and hang them in the woods. I call them prayer poems. As they fade and break apart in the weather, like prayer flags, I hope the thoughts of the poems travel on.

About right…


The New Yorker Magazine

Truth


Source: Mantra Wellness Magazine

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (Last week’s scorecard)

Screen Time: 4 hours and 50 minutes of screen time per day. (And that’s down 10% from last week.  And, this excludes desktop / laptop screen time.)

iPhone PIck-ups: 1,578 iPhone pick-ups last week. 225 pick-ups per day. 357 pick-ups on Thursday. (Approx. 1 pick-up every 3 minutes)

Notifications/Alerts: 5,736 notifications last week. 819 per day. (Approx. 1 notification every 1.2 minutes)


 



hollowing out reality

Marty told me that soon people would only read books electronically. “This is so crap,” I said. “Stuff like that is hollowing out reality. Books and records and films are being thrown away and digitized into a world you can never physically enter. The children of the future will just sit around in empty white rooms.” “White Wall Kids,” my brother interjected. “Good name for a band.” I frowned. “You used to have to wait for a film to be developed. But it wasn’t just the photos we loved, it was the anticipation of finally holding them in your hands.”

Benedict WellsThe End of Loneliness: A Novel (Penguin Books, January 29, 2019)


Photo: Developing Photograph is a photograph by Victor De Schwanberg

 

Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves

Physicist, novelist, and essayist Alan Lightman has added his own manifestoIn Praise of Wasting Time. Of course, the title is ironic, because Lightman argues that by putting down our devices and spending time on quiet reflection, we regain some of our lost humanity, peace of mind, and capacity for creativity—not a waste of time, after all, despite the prevailing mentality that we should spend every moment actually doing something. The problem is not only our devices, the internet, and social media. Lightman argues that the world has become much more noisy, fast-paced, and distracting. Partly, he writes, this is because the advances that have enabled the much greater transfer of data, and therefore productivity, have created an environment in which seemingly inexorable market forces push for more time working and less leisure time.

Lightman starts his book with an anecdote from his recent time in a rural village in Cambodia. When he asked a villager how long it took her to bike daily to the market ten miles away to barter for food and goods, she replied that she had never thought about it. Lightman is “startled” at this, and jealous. He points out that we in the “developed” world (his scare quotes) have carved up our days into minuscule portions, not a single one to be wasted. He admits that “from the instant I open my eyes in the morning until I turn out the lights at night, I am at work on some project. First thing in the morning, I check my email. For any unexpected opening of time that appears during the day, I rush to patch it, as if a tear in my trousers…” 

Lightman points to several productive, creative individuals who routinely had unstructured time in their days. A fellow physicist at MIT, Paul Schechter, used to sit for hours daydreaming on park benches, which he credited with helping come up with important ideas, including a formula for the number of galaxies with different luminosities. Gertrude Stein used to drive around in the country every day and find a place to sit and write; much of that time was not spent writing, but gazing at cows. Mathematician Henri Poincaré, after a few weeks of fruitless work on functions, drank coffee one evening and in his sleeplessness found that “[i]deas rose in crowds; I felt them collide under pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions . . . “

Lightman feels we are in a “dire” situation:

Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves. We are losing our ability to know who we are and what is important to us. We are creating a global machine in which each of us is a mindless and reflexive cog, relentless driven by the speed, noise, and artificial urgency of the wired world.

~ Anitra Pavlico, from “Alan Lightman On Wasting Time” (3quarksdaily, January 7, 2019)


Photo: Financial Times

Truth


Kevin Huizenga (via Austin Kleon)

Running. In Place. With Hagerman.

July 2, 2017. My last Running post.

The last time I ran outside? 258 days ago? Could it be that long ago? Really? Wow.

Updike: “How innocently life ate the days.” How obviously it didn’t eat my expanding waist line.

Read that we spend 87% of our time indoors, 6% in autos and … do the math on the balance, time spent outdoors. Ouch. My outdoor count is lower than average. And here I sit, lay actually, on the bed, indoors, yet another Sunday morning. Motivation to get out: 0% 

Haven’t been able to shake last Sunday’s share: “Boycott. The Embargo. It was draconian and complete” and Hagerman going cold turkey on media, social media, politics et al.  Look at him in the photo above — look at those night stands. There’s nothing there.

I take inventory from my current semi-horizontal position on the bed:

Lamp. Cable TV Remote. Smart TV Remote. Cable Box. Smart TV. Land-line phone. Apple HomePod. (Don’t buy it.) Cell Phones (2). Not a typo. Laptop. iPad. Apple Pencil. Plus backup. Over-the-Ear headphones. Earbuds. (New ritual. Fall asleep to daily podcasts.) Digital Clock. (2). Wireless Charger. Power strip with power cords.  Octopi (…puses?) (Angry, tangled and snarling.) Hard cover books stacked on shelf in nightstand. (Gathering dust).

NY Times story on Hagerman was titled The Man Who Knew Too Little.

This story is titled:

Man Who Knows Nothing And Is Tethered to his Gadgets Needing Detox, Intervention, or Something.


Post Inspiration,  Jonathan Franzen, Best American Essays 2016: “Kierkegaard, in Either/Or, makes fun of the “busy man” for whom busyness is a way of avoiding an honest self-reckoning. You might wake up in the night and realize that…you need to think about what your carbon footprint is doing to the planet, but the next day you have a million little things to do, and the day after that you have another million things. As long as there’s no end of little things, you never have to stop and confront the bigger questions.”

Boycott. The Embargo. It was draconian and complete.

Right after the election, Erik Hagerman decided he’d take a break from reading about the hoopla of politics…Mr. Hagerman developed his own eccentric experiment, one that was part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan. He swore that he would avoid learning about anything that happened to America after Nov. 8, 2016.

“It was draconian and complete,” he said…It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.

James Comey. Russia. Robert Mueller. Las Vegas. The travel ban. “Alternative facts.” Pussy hats. Scaramucci. Parkland. Big nuclear buttons. Roy Moore. He knows none of it. To Mr. Hagerman, life is a spoiler…

It takes meticulous planning to find boredom. Mr. Hagerman commits as hard as a method actor, and his self-imposed regimen — white-noise tapes at the coffee shop, awkward scolding of friends, a ban on social media — has reshaped much of his life…The fact that it’s working for him — “I’m emotionally healthier than I’ve ever felt,” he said — has made him question the very value of being fed each day by the media. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?…

“I had been paying attention to the news for decades,” Mr. Hagerman said. “And I never did anything with it.” At some point last year, he decided his experiment needed a name. He considered The Embargo, but it sounded too temporary. The Boycott? It came off a little whiny. Mr. Hagerman has created a fortress around himself. “Tiny little boats of information can be dangerous,” he said…

~ Sam Dolnick, excerpts from The Man Who Knew Too Little (NY Times, March 10, 2018)

Guilty

Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn’t. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet – if I’m being honest – the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix…

So, it’s been unnerving to realize: I have forgotten how to read – really read – and I’ve been refusing to talk about it out of pride…

Online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.

Author Nicholas Carr writes that, “digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts.” We become, “more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli.” So, I throw down the old book, craving mental Tabasco sauce. And yet not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.

~ Michael Harris, “I have forgotten how to read.” For a long time Michael Harris convinced himself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate him from our new media climate – that he could keep on reading in the old way because his mind was formed in pre-internet days. He was wrong.

Read on: “I Have Forgotten How to Read.” (The Globe and Mail, Feb 9, 2018)

 

 

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