The internet is back in our house for a few days, two months after we decided to try our hand at living without it. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand the convenience is lovely; living without instant internet access requires a kind of planning I'd almost forgotten about. On the other hand, I already find my attention divided again between living and talking about living, if you know what I mean. It’s easier to blog, but it’s harder to linger outside in the mornings after chores or tear myself away for a walk.
A couple of days ago I listened to Krista Tippett’s interview with Mary Oliver. Oliver is 79 and she sounds like a rascally little bird, strangely different from, and yet, exactly like, what you’d expect her to be. Her poems are born during her long hours outdoors with her notebook in hand. You can feel that in her writing - her words are as immediate as ocean waves, as simple as starlight or sea birds. Oliver thinks writers should never use computers for writing because they get in the way. Listening to her, you knew she was picturing some writer lumbering around on the beach with a laptop and an extension cord. I imagined her veined hands waving in the air as if to shoo such nonsense away. Wendell Berry has the same kind of attitude towards computers, and for a moment, I wished I was of that generation, perhaps the last people in the (first) world who still find screens and internet connections extraneous, if not foolish. But I am not; I am of my own time, inextricably linked to the new world. My job is to tame these tools and use them to grow even more human.
Interestingly, Oliver says she is fond of the ideas of Lucretius, an Epicurean philosopher, who believed we are all atoms, all part of the world’s energy, and when we die we continue on, but in different forms, in different ways. This is similar to, Oliver says, the way we bury a dog under a rosebush and he becomes part of the soil, part of the rose. It’s not exactly what I believe about the interplay of life – I’m always aware of a guiding Hand behind the scene - but I think there is a kind of truth in it, something the modern world both reveals and obscures. Online, we see the vast interconnectedness of humanity, see how idea and action stew and burn to become fertilizer and soil and bone and living tissue. And yet we also find ourselves - removed as we are from touching and feeling and the use of our senses by a screen - desensitized to the world we have grown.
American ecologist and conservationist Aldo Leopold said,
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
His words are perhaps, for me, the most helpful way of looking at the issue: are my online interactions enhancing my life within the community AND the community’s life as a whole? Are my daily interactions bringing stability and beauty, increasing the integrity of my relationships and connections? Perhaps I am being led to realize that my online life could mirror the created world with its natural cycles of growth, pruning, harvest and fallowness. I’m leaning into that idea and catching the rhythm of it. We’ll see where it takes us.
For now, we’re working out a plan that is more than nothing and less than all. I’m still pretty limited as to the amount of time I’m actually here, but I think it’s working out just fine.
Thanks as always for your loving patience.
~ There's a beautiful essay by Aldo Leopold here. It has nothing to do with the internet, but if you appreciate the insight of naturalists as I do, you might enjoy his perspective.
~ And a nice article on how habits shape us, with Mary Oliver, here.