Thursday, July 9, 2009
"We live in wondrous times, astoundingly fast times, Blackberry and instant-message times, humankind accomplishing a swelling tidal wave of feats that would have scared Leonardo DaVinci witless.
Almost every day I encounter people, who, like me, do not feel empowered by these abundant times. Some are mildly unsettled; others near to drowning.
Someone says, "The more they talk about being 'connected,' the more isolated I feel."
Author Maggie Jackson claims information overload is crippling our ability to think deeply; what matters is now veiled."--From Islands Apart: A Year on the Edge of Civilization
I've been away from the computer for two weeks. I returned to work to find close to 500 emails, and on my Gmail account, there were hundreds more, though many were email newsletters and store sale announcements, most of which I deleted without reading. I gravitated toward the few personal emails I had received. Those I kept.
I missed writing on this blog, but I didn't miss all the noise of commerce, celebrity gossip, news of wars and murders and abuse, the latest political harangues. I was blissfully disconnected. I didn't even have a cell phone. I heard of Michael Jackson's death on CNN World News, but didn't hear any of the ensuing details. Oh, and I heard from a frenchman that one of our senators ran away to South America to be with his mistress, but I didn't hightail it to the nearest internet cafe to read the latest developments.
I was in Paris for a week in a small apartment near Pigalle, home of the disappointingly-dinky Moulin Rouge and steps away from every food shop one would ever need to live a happy life and die smiling. I wanted to live in the moment, soak it all in, but even living my new, disconnected life, I found my brain racing with too many thoughts, my mind consumed with hungers. I had never been to Paris, and there was so much to take in, so much to sample, look at, experience, purchase. At times I felt like I had to go back to the apartment and close my eyes--that was how much of a sensory overload it was for me. If I was sitting at one cafe enjoying a cafe au lait and a pain du chocolat, I was thinking about what I would be doing next. When I went to one fancy department store and bought a charming little blouse for 55 Euros, I was already thinking about what other pretty clothes awaited me in the next store. If I was eating a Religieuse pastry, I was wondering what the Macarons tasted like. In the Jardin des Tuileries I was happily lounging under the shade, reading a book, my head resting comfortably and surrounded by beauty everywhere I looked. But I found it hard to just stay, to just be. Even in the best possible circumstances, I'm thinking about what's next.
So I was away from the information overload that is the internet, free to experience the real world rather than the virtual one--but I was still struggling with living in the moment because of my habit of wondering what I'd find behind the next corner. I was like a baby who doesn't want to go to sleep because he's afraid he'll miss something. Happiness is contentment, and I wouldn't be content until I had seen and experienced everything the city had to offer--which of course is impossible. Because contentment is about being happy with what you have in front of you, and I just wanted more, more. If I was happy now, would I be even happier at the next cafe, the next sight, the next charming boutique?
When I'm online, I want to be clued into every good site, blog, comment, essay, news posting, etc. that I can get my hands on. But disconnecting from the computer was not enough to control my greed--I also had to disconnect from my "monkey mind" of always wanting more, better, best so I could fully experience the great things that were happening to me in the present. It was incredibly hard to do, but by week two in Sweden I was starting to get it. I was thinking more clearly without all the distracting buzz in the background (no, the only buzz was coming from the biting flies that come out in summer there.) I was recognizing how fleeting my vacation (and time itself) was and so I tried to savor it a bit more. I came back from the trip more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to practice being present here at home.