One of the interesting aspects of my two weeks of mainland travel was a lack of internet access for two different chunks of time. While I was at Laity Lodge, I had nothing. While traveling beyond Tennessee, I had phone access but no real iPad wifi access. Beyond that, I decided before traveling that I wasn’t going to carry an external keyboard or laptop while traveling. So while it wasn’t a total unplug, there were some real moments of a kind of freedom from deeply embedded online practices.
Just over a week beyond Laity Lodge, speaker Alan Jacobs posted some interesting thoughts on his role as a writer/thinker and a sense of meaninglessness that had befallen him in light of his work (most recently with the book How to Think and then next month with The Year of Our Lord 1943). It had even gotten to the point that he had decided against writing a third book in line with How to Think and an earlier book on reading for pleasure. For some time now, Jacobs has (publicly) processed multiple attempts at making sense of the digital behemoth, often leaving and returning to Twitter or going back and forth between “dumb” phone and “smart” phone. And while little was said of that at the retreat, it was interesting to see it appear again in his online work. From the original post’s conclusion:
There has been one significant consequence of all these moves, and I find it an interesting one. Curiously, though in a way logically, my escape from Twitter’s endless cycles of intermittent reinforcement and its semi-regular tsunamis has made me significantly calmer about my own future as a writer, in large part because it has re-set my mental clock. I have always told myself that I have time to think about what, if anything, I want to write next, but I haven’t really believed it, and I think that’s been due to my immersion in the time-frame of Twitter and other social media. Now that I’ve climbed out of that medium, I can give not merely notional but real assent to the truth that I have time, plenty of time, to think through what I might want to say.
It was Douglas Coupland who first introduced me to the idea of “an accelerated culture” via Generation X. That’s been a common complaint for each successive generation, and yet perhaps more pertinent for ours than for many that have gone before us. Jacobs sees that in his own life with “Twitter and other social media.” (There was one point during the retreat where some gentleman’s name was mentioned that no one seemed to know. But we knew well his “invention,” the “pull down to refresh” option on phones. Upon the revelation, I nodded and laughed uncomfortably). That is, of course, the downside to our culture of constant content.
As I reflect on the ideas of rest and “resetting mental clocks,” I think that such a “resetting” involves more than just our “accelerated” culture, though that is the one that many of us are most prone to fall prey to. As I traveled, I often found myself at the whim of whatever time-trapped culture I was in. Whether a culture of leisure or of labor, fast or slow, finding the footing to establish and maintain a good and healthy rhythm can seem impossible. That was part of my hope for this summer. For the last year, I had lived a kind of rhythm that could work in the short-term but not in the long. Now I’m on the edge of repeating that rhythm. And I’m wondering if I’ve done the work necessary to circumvent the worst parts of that rhythm. Because here’s the thing: no one is going to do that work for you. Or if those people exist, they are rare and likely have little say in the rhythms of your life.
You can read all of the Alan Jacobs post here.
(image from credit.com)