Saturday, February 25, 2017

Thoughts in a book: this time last year

To progress. To move from one thing to another. Linear time. The past: worse. The future: brighter. A dichotomy of motion.
Dystopia is the inverse, but the same, a romanticized past, a future of unbearable ugliness and privation.
In the rhythms of the greater world, there is another story.


Cold in the early morning. Wake to snow-covered fields. Half-moon, bright in the rich gray of the sky, above the ridges of white and black.
Woodsmoke. Even the fence rails, even the willow branches wear a ridge of snow.

On the weekends we make excursions to town. Use the internet, make calls. As if visiting our old life for the afternoon.
The internet has colonized our pockets for a long time. Endless, expansive, always available. I can think back to a time before my smart phone, before computers were ubiquitous even. Before internet, before the sites that have become verbs unto themselves. I knew a time of floppy disks and dot-matrix printers, and before that typewriters. They are sense-memories, properties of my childhood. They seem distant, historical. The internet age has suffused all recent memory.
Sometimes we stand in the trailer, reach a mental impasse. We don’t know what we want to know. In the past we might have whipped out the phone, a game of search engine quick-draw. Now our hands flutter in the air. We should look that up sometime, we say. Then we usually forget about it.
This is straining in some ways. Friends who reached out to us by electronic means before, now hear radio silence most of the time. And there is a certain emptiness our time on the internet once occupied – a sense of being interconnected, in the know, reading widely (if somewhat shallowly) on many subjects. There is a feeling of loss, for what stood in for community and networks of kinship.
Standing aside from it, one can see it is only an approximation of those things we crave, connection, kinship. But we are in the transitional mode, an awkward moment, filling these spaces. We don’t have a village to canvas for knowledge. We don’t have tradition to turn to. But at last we can really recognize it, begin to grieve that absence.
In that place, we now put tactile knowledge: how to dig a parsnip, how to plant a garlic clove. The smell of wind before it snows. The honking of geese, the wheeling of hawks. How the firs stand silent and dark and still on the ridge.
We focus more on the daily, the moment. Where the internet felt vast, my mind frantic in its attempts to consume the unending stream, now my mind feels expansive, ranging through thought and memory while I dig carrots or pick kale. This isn’t always comfortable. But it feels enlivened, real.


I feel I see the internet, and the companies that own it, in a new light, or at least recognize my subconscious thoughts about them. I realize how much fear they inspire, a carefully controlled, unmentionable fear.
This is partly because we know they must have a great deal of power – they have so much money, and access to information. And beyond that they are not physical things, amorphous, inchoate, leviathan yet insubstantial. Great cloud-like daemons floating on the horizon, aware of everything we do or even want to do. We believe in their existence utterly, even as they exist nowhere except in the lights that project images from our computers.
Just as social media seems to have taken the place of community, internet companies seem to be the gods or powerful spirits of our time. Capricious, unknowable, their limits untested. We beseech them in queries at the search bar, and they seem to answer, and for the moment we sigh relief. Their existence is a foregone conclusion.
I imagine fairy tales told in some future time to keep children in line:
The google is always watching, it has one eye that never shuts. The google is totally silent, you’ll never hear it coming. You can ask the google anything, but then it will know everything about you.

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