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July 14, 2011


This all calls to mind a passage from Walden, which it took me mere seconds to find (ironically enough) on my Kindle:

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly."

Communication tools of all sorts are wonderful enough, but at the end of the day, you have to have something to say.

I think the "busy" aspect of it is what's tiring for me. Last week D. and I went up to his family's Michigan cottage and were completely unplugged for the whole week - we listened to music on the radio one night, but that was it. The rest of the time was spent reading, sleeping, hiking, and eating. If I'd been there another week, I'd have shifted to projects, since I can't do the lie-around-and-be-still thing for very long; I get physically antsy. Aside from the occasional moment when we wished access to Google to clarify some point (the dictionaries there got a real workout from us), we didn't miss it.

Of course, it didn't last. As soon as we got back home, we were both online, checking out everything we'd missed while away.

I do think a big part of it is simply that we don't have as many friends in physical proximity as we do online. If we only interacted with people we know locally, we'd be social maybe one evening a month, if that (though I have one good friend I see more often, she's away this summer). All that online busyness and community helps mask and compensate from the pain of being uprooted every year or two - a solution and a problem all in one.

I can relate.

I'm glad to hear that the blog is going to remain your primary online focus; on a selfish level, I want your blog to stay here because I love reading it! And because the blog is my primary online mode of interaction, too (my blog, I mean, though I guess I also mean the larger ecosystem of the blogs on which I comment and whose writers sometimes comment on mine), I'm glad to know that it will remain yours, too.

Twitter, FB, and now Google+ are all relatively similar for me inasmuch as they are places where one might share something short and pithy, or share a link to something interesting or amusing or poignant. But I don't feel compelled to keep up with any of them. If days go by without me checking those places, hey, that's the way it goes. (Whereas if days go by without me checking my email, then I am either out of the country or something is very strange and possibly broken in my life!)

I've been feeling overwhelmed myself with the onslaught of more "social interaction" to manage online, while at the same time trying to cultivated a deeper understanding and way to speak of certain issues central to my life lately. I remember summers from years ago, when the pace slowed and I got lost in reading books, and somehow, that just doesn't seem eve possible again. Coincidentally -- and ironically through Twitter interactions -- I got to hear about "Hamlet's Blackberry," a book by William Powers (http://www.williampowers.com/) who writes about the complexities (from possibilities to problems) with which our digital lives present us. And in another stroke of irony, I am reading this book on my Kindle.

But yes, as Lorianne already said (and the book I am reading says in entire chapters) at the end of the day, you do have to have something to say. Of course, I also hope that with all our distractions, and the way so many of us follow the digital Pied Pier, at the end of the day, there will be enough of us left to also listen....

The compulsion of banding together is at the heart of the challenge new applications send our way. Of needing to be with the audience, shifting with them, followin them to their haunts.

At some point it'll get to be much, maybe even too much, and priorities will ask to be rearranged yet again, to that from before.

Constant renewal vis-a-vis newer eco-systems strains the thinking mind that's probably happiest when warming up in familiar contexts even if the contexts are old.

Yes yes yes! And hear hear! To all of that, Beth. I hear you and wholly agree. It's why I have mostly resisted FaceBook, totally resisted Twitter, will not sign up to new Googleness, and do not want a smartphone. I love my Mac but I miss the early enthusiasm I felt when I first got it (8 years ago!) and it was all so new and fresh and there weren't all these social networks and extra gadgets, and blogging was just creative adventure and simply getting two or three comments on a blog post was cause for celebration! Now it's like this:

"...driven by a shared anxiety: if we don't keep up, we'll be left behind; if we don't flock over here with the Crowd, we'll lose our audience and no one will talk to us or listen to us anymore..."

Sigh. Yes. We must resist!

I agree with Natalie. My approach? No mobile, no Facebook, no Kindle, no Twitter, not even a watch: just a laptop for keeping up with news, some blogs, and overseas family and friends. This helps avoid the insanity and leaves time for those activities formerly known as "living", including reading, gardening, listening to the birds, working with one's hands, enjoying the company of others, and simply idling -- and all without feeling the need to report any of it in public. Life is short...

I agree with Natalie, and Robert and all of you. I already spend too much time on this one computer blogging, emailing and doing my photos and artwork. I dislike phones so why would I want a smart one? Husband is very keen on all the latest iStuff but not me, though I half thought I might take to the iPad but no. Part of it might be a bit of laziness and reluctance to have to learn more stuff that I really don't think I need to take up my limited and precious time. Each to his own... I'm just so glad you are still blogging, Beth!

Marja-Leena, you are a woman after my own heart. And, Beth, I hope your respite in the country refreshes you. [in the old sense of that word "refresh" ] I haven't the time for all of the things I'm signed up for either. Blogs are my favorite too, and I haven't time enough for the ones I like to read regularly. I don't have internet at home, so that's one (big) reason, but I don't want it there. I don't want to turn over the amount of space required to electronic things.

So, I plug along on my 17 year old Power Book, with inkjet printer attached, and listen to CDs on a rigged up "stereo" comprised of an ancient walkman plugged into an equally ancient boombox by way of one of those thingies you stick into your car tape deck to connect to a CD player you have on the passenger seat and the phone, which is black and heavy and you dial [look it up in the dictionary ]it. Answering machine's ancient too (and uses little cassettes).

That is enough for me.

Hearing you loud and clear, Beth. Resisting smartphones. Resisting google+. If I hadn't bruised a rib getting a feral cat taken in I'd be planning to spend the weekend gardening and spinning... I'm tired of how plugged in I seem to be. And now I have to do it for work too.

Just a thought: Socrates didn't think much of the new-fangled technology of writing in his days. It was going to ruin conversation, which was the life of the mind at the agora.

I am a Grandmother who has two grandsons living with me. This year I started to take the 2 1/2 year old to a Headstart program at elementary school. The parents and some grandparents stay with the children and help them interact and play with the other little ones. The age range is babies to 4 year olds. I couldn't help but notice that the majority of the young mums constantly had their cell phones out reading and texting, while the older grandparents were down on the floor with the kids joining in the play and fun. They were so preoccupied with their phones, that I often felt they should have just dropped off the kids. I often would comment on it on returning home to my husband. The sad thing is, everyone is the looser in this scenerio. I am actually going to talk to the instructor next year and see if there could be a rule of no cell phone use inside the classroom, except for emergencies. Because, I think this is one!

You don't need me to add my thoughts on this, do you?
I see the worst side of cyberspace daily at work. The criminal side. The things I could tell you would make you throw your 'wired' gadgets out of the window and retreat to the hills. And then there's the effect on us as human beings of all this social networking and living online...

I would like to be a Luddite living in rural isolation with goats and chickens and solar panels, one day, for now I am obliged to conduct much of my personal business online and to spend much of my waking time fighting to combat the Bad Guys in cyberspace, but my 'social networking' is done face to face on the village green, across the counter in the local shop or by good old fashioned pen and paper

You will never see me on FaceBook, never hear me Twitter, I refuse to be LinkedIn. The day I realised that I can be found on Google was a bad day for me.

I recently picked up a book in the library: "Slow is Beautiful." I skimmed it there, and got the gist of it. What most stuck with me was the title. I keep saying it to myself. It's calming and reminds me of what matters.

I took up FB and Twitter accounts for work and immediately found I had nothing to say to Twitter and that hardly anyone else did, either. Some of my friends throw up interesting links onto Facebook, so I'm using it as marketing people intended, as a filter to provide ideas I wouldn't otherwise see. Of course, many of my friends also got their FB accounts for work and are sharing links I can't believe even THEY are interested in, but that's another matter. But I have chores to do, books to read, a family to attend to. I can see where texting with friends might give a bored or lonely kid a warm sense of being closer to others, but I don't have any problem with telling my daughter to turn it off -- she is usually a step ahead of me there, anyway.

I like the idea of balancing my (paper) checkbook register at my convenience rather than the bank's, but I've noticed that several of the businesses I might pay electronically want me to pay for the convenience or else have my bill subtracted automatically from my bank account. I pay 50-60 cents to pay a bill the old way; no sense in paying a dollar for the new, and I can see only disaster looming in automatic withdrawals.

I think it's easier to Google certain references rather than flip through a book, but there are things I can't find: Solid answers about Netflix, for example. Trustworthy home repair advice, for another -- I used to prefer asking at a local hardware store, but it shut down recently, a victim of Home Depot.

Good luck., and thanks for making me think about how I use the Internet ...

Hi, Beth. I was offline last week and on retreat in Massachusetts. Actually swam in Walden Pond on Tuesday night with a lot of locals.... the parking lot ticket machine was broken and someone had taped a sign on it saying MACHINE BROKEN...PARKING FREE. A duck and three of her young ones paddled across the edge of the swimming area. A young woman in a white dress came into the water and walked out again, her tanned body entireley revealed beneath the clinging wet garment but I didn't notice anyone gawking, not even the five or six young men bobbing and conversing together in (Chinese?) out by the red and white guardrope.The retreat house, Campion, was on a hill in a woodsy part of Weston. Everyone in our part of the house was in silence. Each morning, the day's copy of the Boston Globe would appear on a table in the Retreatants' Lounge and I could scan the headlines and the weather report without getting too pulled in. I was surprised how quickly the impulse to 'google' or check FB on topics of concern.... what DO deer ticks look like, again.. is 'confitemini domino' part of a psalm and if so which one and what is the rest?....is Kulsum all right in Mumbai... fell away. The same Lounge that held the newspaper actually had a big old latin concordance to the Vulgate so I found my Psalm (118 in terms of today's numbering)... and I stayed on the wider trails on the property & watched the desire to seek answers to every question online, instanter, fade away. After supper I generally lay down to bed before dark, feeling like a child in a different sense than usual, and around midnight would wake and get up if I wanted to and take some more prayer time in the hot and quiet night. The moon was full on one of them, and I saw several big owls during the week. I bought a little reproduction of the "San Damiano" crucifix in the gift shop one day, and read a book about its iconography just for fun. In this particular crucifix, Jesus is resurrected but still wounded. He is surrounded by angels and people, above and below, right and left. The legend is that his eyes were shut until Saint Francis came to San Damiano to pray, and then the eyes of the image opened. They are huge eyes. I became aware during the silence of some personal history I had ignored for a long time, and the silence allowed me to come up to date in ways that I hope will bear fruit longer than upgrading technology might do. By the 7th day I did succumb to the desire to check phone messages (old style) and to venture beyond Walden Pond to a nearby mall before the long drive home on Saturday. That morning I woke from a dream in which I was busily revising a poem. A good feeling to know I had gotten to that point, though of course I wish I had been able to remember the poem! I'm not Coleridge, that's all. Last night arrived back to find just 199 email messages waiting for me including bouncebacks from a message sent by some mail-stealing thing (is this what a spambot is?), a chat group I hardly read any more, a very few personal notes. I was glad to come today to your blog and see the canoe paddle pictures. I will post snaps of my retreat house on FB & look forward to catching up in person soon.

It feels a little self indulgent writing to you here in cassandraland what would ordinarily be a regular email but as your desire to withdraw coincided with my retreat I hope it can belong here in that way...

Kia ora Beth,
I stepped back from blogging for a bit, just to refresh myself, and have a few mountain experiences just for myself, and to consider what it is I want my place to be. I am not sure I got any more wisdom from my break, but I do feel more comfortable in silences and just enjoying other places. I started originally as a way to keep my family and a few friends back in the states abreast of some of my interests here in Aotearoa, and lo and behold was surprised and delighted to find a community of like minded people with wonderful things of their own to share. I have met 4-5 of those people now and all have held real and true. So for me my blog will always hold a special place, even if I am silent for a time.
I started a Face Book page for the same reason, to connect with family and friends back home, and here. I find it interesting in a very topical way, especially here with the political scene, and a way to get information out there and receive it as well, beyond the mainstream media. Of course that information has to be vetted as well. I enjoy sharing music there as well. What I do not like about FB is the constant forward driven pace of it. Unlike a blog, where I can scroll through your prior posts quite easily, trying to go backwards of FB is a time consuming and frustrating exercise. I do not like that at all.
Twitter I have never, nor will ever find a need for in my life.
Interesting in that lovely wife recently had her mobile phone crash and burn. We have not replaced it, and have found the fears of not being in instant touch, texting, ect. have not brought disaster and ruin to our life. Indeed, it has brought a sense of peace to her, of being uninterupted when reading or writing, and peace also in that we simply plan better. Like we all had to do 15-20 short years ago. Kia kaha e hoa.

I don't see facebook / twitter / etc. as places for conversation. They're places for people to comment. (I find this is true even with blogs, which I still associate with longer and more luxuriously sustained attention.) Of course, I don't use facebook much, nor twitter; perhaps if I committed more time to both I'd find richer dialogue. I prefer depth, which requires slowness, which, in turn, requires the sort of committed focus that facebook seems to undermine.

I signed up for GooglePlus (does this name remind anyone else of 1984? No? Guess it's just me then) but I don't anticipate using it much. I've tried this year to focus my internet time on email (which I love, and all the more so for its increasingly retro flavor) and blogging (which I admittedly would love to do more regularly) and a few choice listservs. It's proven embarrassingly difficult--I've had a smartphone for far too long and the horrid little gadgets mean you're pretty much carrying the internet in your pocket--but I don't feel, thankfully, that I'm missing all that much.

Anyway. This is all just to say that yes I relate and yes it's overwhelming and oh like you do I ache to create rather than 'consume' (such a terrible term) online. And I am so glad you'll continue to blog. These pages are such a sweet oasis.

I only got a phone last fall when child no. 2 went to college... I don't mind it but have little idea how to use its capabilities--my husband bought me a Droid. Every now and then I find it will do something useful, like wake me in the morning, but a more primitive thing would have sufficed.

Of course, writers are really pushed by publishers to link and be part of online community. Meanwhile they aren't writing while being busy being part of a community. So it is a bit of a struggle. Yet it is lovely for those of us in the sticks to feel less alone.

No, I haven't figured it all out. Blog, yes. Must help my publishers, must greet the world, etc. And it can be fun, of course, to feel part of a creative world. Twitter, once daily. Facebook, yes, I should cut back. I quit MySpace (horrors! viruses!)

Hawthorne was always talking about the "magnetic chain of humanity." He definitely didn't mean via electronics... And, of course, magnets are very bad for electronics.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.