Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Word From Esther!

Posted by Amy Chini

Month One

First things first. By way of correction, I need to let you know that my Year Without Internet is costing 15 dollars per month less than I thought it would. I bring this up only because I wrote two whole posts on it back in my blogging month of November, and now those figures are all wrong.

When I called to cancel the internet, the nice young man on the phone explained to me that I could keep my promotional rate just by signing up for basic cable. This sounds like a racket, and maybe it is, but the end result is that my monthly bill is less than I expected, and if you want to come over, I now have basic cable. All you have to bring is the TV.

I’ve asked Amy to post this letter for me today, because I feel strongly that the conversation I started in my blogging month of November deserves to be kept alive. This is a conversation about our relationship with communication technology. It’s a conversation about love of “speed” and love of “ease,” and whether or not technology created to sate these desires is actually in any way improving our lives.

In this New Year’s week, I have heard (on the radio) and read (in the newspaper) a lot of references to science fiction. As adolescents, we used to read books that were set in 2010. These books had spaceships and aliens and artificial intelligences. It’s funny now to say, “Look, none of that has happened. None of it has come true. What fun we had with all our imagining!” It’s also funny to say, “Look, robots are real. Genetic engineering is real. Cloning is real. It’s true that we don’t press a little button on our chests in order to open a phone line, but our lines of communication are that ubiquitous, and almost as easy.”

In some small ways, these two worlds are converging. Science fiction has happened. Science fiction has come true. (Although, apparently, without the aliens.)

I am only one of a hundred voices this week that is noticing this. Many, many people are talking about how we observe and judge our relationships with communication technology, especially at the individual level. How do I, in my life, find the time to disconnect? How do I turn off the signal long enough to live here and now, in the place where I am?

My perspective on this is personal, related to a difficult thing that I have set out to do, by myself. On my solo journey, I am constantly measuring my self-reliance. Americans are a hardy bunch, and we talk a big talk about this, self-reliance. It might be the ability to trust that even without the pull of the crowd, one will still muddle along into the best possible action. It might be the faith that motivation will sustain, even in the absence of deadlines and hierarchies. Or it might be the ability to stop, even when everybody else is still moving.

This is the practice which emerges from the journey of my Year Without Internet, Month One: a practice of stopping.

This is the question which emerges from the same: Do you know how to stop?

As soon as I set out to stop, there emerge two smaller and more insistent questions. The first is “What do I do with myself?” And the second is “How do I get away?” I have tried, turning these over in my mind, to disengage them from one another. I will do a chapter on each one. But I can’t get them apart. They are the same question. “To do” is the verb for getting away. I do in order to escape.

At the end of this first month, I am very aware of the relationship between the internet and what I might call “busy work,” which is any work that you do that you don’t really want to finish. A good friend of mine, living in relative idleness after being laid off from his job, was asked, “What have you been up to?” He answered,

“I’ve almost finished reading the Internet.”

Of course he started reading it all over again the next day. But I have excluded that option. Without my bottomless well of busy work, what am I supposed to do with myself? Crossword puzzles? Or a cross stitch? Read magazines? Pick the lint off of all my sweaters?

Approaching the same problem from the other direction, it’s privacy that feels lacking. I realize that Facebook is not only a way to connect with people. It is also a way to stop connecting with people: namely, the ones who live in my house. These are the little ones, who try to connect in problematic ways like begging for another game of Airplane, or spitting food into my hand, or just endlessly interrupting my train of thought. But this is also that one person who is always and forever occupying my personal space, whose imperfections are a constant drag on my buzz, and whose traumas are the ultimate killjoy. These are my children, and this is me.

So…here I am in New England, sitting in the middle of piles and piles of snow, learning how to live with myself. And the wonderful letters seem to come around just exactly when I need them, like ceramics classes. And this household celebrated the battery-operated candle lights out of Christmas.

I am (mostly) glad to be exactly where I am, right now.