Saturday, September 24, 2016
From one moment to the next
Working on a mindful gardening project, which has led me to pick up Louise Dickinson Rich's book We Took to the Woods again. Not sure why--does she garden much in particular? She's out in the woods and there is some kind of garden I think. She's very mindful. Very deliberate. Very able to live in the present and not give into any fear of missing out. I was flipping through the section where she presents a defense to people who worry that she's "out of touch" with culture/news etc. In response she talks about how much she has been able to read out there (all of Proust, for example, which didn't impress her (!?)) and "The Education of Henry Adams" among other works. Here she talks about what she sees as the benefit of waiting for Friday to get a summary of that week's news. "We get our news a little late, but I wouldn't be surprised if in the long run we have a clearer and more sensible idea of what is going on that those who read every special edition and listen to the special spot-news broadcasts on the radio all day long. Frankly, I don't see how they can possibly know where they're at from one moment to the next, and I should think they'd all go raving mad" (255).
So of course you know that I'm thinking--doesn't that sound like today's, say, New York Times reader, who get the paper delivered to the door, versus those of us who refresh Huffpo and Twitter constantly to see if we missed any major happenings in the last 5 minutes? Yes, partly I am thinking that. And my initial take is that it's all the worse now. You thought that was bad? The all-day radio listener was the addict? Just like in The Gift from the Sea when Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about housewives no longer able to draw on their imaginations anymore because of radio. Or a 1979 article from the Times that talked about people getting rid of their answering machines when being tracked down became too burdensome and annoying. Or early revolts against the telephone for displacing the once beloved art of the letter. At first these anachronistic complaints of speed or distraction highlight how far we've fallen away from having time and space and room to think and be alone. But then I also wonder if the problem of new technology's disorientating effects has always been in place. In his 2004 In Praise of Slowness Carl Honore talks about the reaction against ancient writing systems and the hysteria about its corrosive effects on memory.
I don't think that's the right conclusion either. To say - every age reacts against change. But I just want to acknowledge that possible interpretation, before making a claim for exponential growth of speed and distraction. Except I can't make that claim tonight. I must get back to a bunch of tasks here, big and small ones, mostly small.