There's a great deal to be said for real-time living. I missed my husband and my cat a lot while I was away; I'm glad to be back with them. By the same token, I miss my father too and was happy to have a whole week with him, and to have some time there to catch up with family and friends.
The amount of traveling I've been doing, some of it without internet access, has meant less time online. This meant that I checked email when I could, Facebook even less frequently. A lot of the emails were entirely unnecessary and unimportant. When I did log onto FB, I'd have 25 notifications waiting for me, but I noticed that 90% of them were from the same four or five people. When I could, I'd look at Feedly to check blog updates -- something that seemed to matter to me more than the social networking. I have a Twitter list for updates from a "shortlist," mainly people I know pretty well, who post either micropoems or very thoughtful tweets or photographs. Apparently what I'm most interested in is content, not chatter.
An occasional internet "fast" seems like a good thing for me; it clarifies, and holds up a mirror on my own behavior. The reverse is also valuable: noticing how much I enjoy actually being with people in person, and how much deeper those interactions often are. When I think about how much human development has gone into our abilities to read one another's expressions, subtle qualities in the eyes, hand gestures, the inflections of our voices, our choices of how to stand or sit or move in relation to one another, it astounds me that we don't think more often about the vast array of signals we lose in communicating only through computers. Will we, in time, become more and more dis-embodied as a species? If we don't use these abilities, and don't use our senses nearly as much, whether for survivial or enjoyment, surely these highly-evolved characteristics will atrophy, and others, more useful, will be selected for. The natural world is already in desperate trouble; I dread the time when we have ceased to notice it at all.
And what about inter-species communication? My cat and I can only communicate in person, and the range of our understanding, the way we "read" each other, seems to increase over time. To carry it even further, perhaps I can appreciate a flower or a tree or a landscape by looking at a picture, but it is nothing like the feeling that comes from actually being in nature. I don't want to live most of my life vicariously, but I wonder sometimes if ours is the last generation that will feel this way.
While in central New York, I went for a long walk down an abandoned railroad track to a favorite marsh and pond with a close friend who was also a dear friend of my mother's. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we were quiet: looking, listening to the geese and kingfishers, smelling the warm dry leaves, tasting a wintergreen leaf, touching bark and thorns and berries, feeling the cinders under our feet. We both felt very alive, and yet were also aware that people long dead walked with us on this same path. New memories were also being created, because we had chosen to do something together that was as real as we could, for the time that we had.
As Lorianne points out in her astute post, "The Fear of Missing Out ", people are already missing a great deal about the world that is open to our senses because they are so afraid of missing something on their phones! Travel and waiting in spaces like airports shows you that too: the great inability of most people to enjoy solitude and silence, let alone to find interest and fascination in what's going on around them at a particular moment. I used to love the solitude of long drives. Now, when I stop for a break, I feel that I have to make phone calls or send texts to the people on the opposite ends of the journey because they expect it and because I have a phone that will do this. Yes, it's considerate and loving, but it's also not really necessary; I'm all right, and so are they.
Of course, my world has enlarged enormously because of computers and the internet, and I'm grateful every day for these relationships and this ability to share our lives. I'm especially grateful that I can continue to keep in touch with people like the ones I'm mentioning here when we're not able to see one another. But my online world is not everything, and sometimes I'm glad to be reminded of that.