Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Annotated Life

Like most writers, I crave good reading.

For about five years, I've been hooked on THE SUN, an ad-free journal that leaves me feeling--quite simply--more connected to reality, the underbelly of humanity (Insert Hallmark commercial here, sure. But it's true.) When I read something that moves me, challenges me, or just plain knocks my socks off, I tend to annotate it: write notes in the margins, highlight passages, dog-ear the tiny tips of pages to lead me back, again and again, to that sense of connection or emotion felt so fully.

As a writer, I spend a lot of my day on my computer. After dinner, sometimes I feel as though my awake time rushed by without me as much as pulling out a tail feather.

So how do I change this sense of constant motion tied to a lack of mindfulness? How can I annotate my everyday life?

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It's no surprise that many read-ables once found only in print are now available on the Internet--or at least parts of them are. THE SUN is no different, and this morning I came across an article called "Computing the Cost...How the Internet is Rewiring Our Brains."

Worth a careful read...especially for those who spend hours in front of a screen of any kind.

I'm not about to say that technology is Diablo-worthy. This blog is proof of my swirling thoughts on its "reign," proof that I'm always looking for others who struggle with staying in the "in-between-ness" of it all. Any tips and testimonies on balancing the high-tech whirlwind are always taken to heart.

I come from a culture that knows how technology can separate us, speed up our lives to the point of living one blurry day after another. Sound familiar, anyone? But I also claim a family of writer friends and mentors whose daily goal is to communicate; ignoring the Web's dominance would be dismissing a Goliath way to connect. Yet it seems we are creating generations of "skimmers"--and not only when it comes to reading.

As a teacher who roams the streets of a college town daily (this sounds more mysterious than saying "I walk most places"), I notice conversations--or lack thereof. In class, my students shy away from deep reflection, even in ten-minute intervals. Fifty minutes of not having a laptop or cellphone in front of them seems like torture on some days. More than this, though, I notice a dwindling vocabulary (this applies to me at times, as well!). The same phrases used, over and over. Short sentences, interrupted statements, the f-bomb used as multiple parts of speech, eyes that tell me brains are ceaselessly multi-tasking.

In war-torn nations, a limited, repetitive vocabulary is a sign of years of "survival mode." But here in the U.S., we maintain the ranking of world's biggest military and consumer power. Are we on "survival mode" somehow?  If so, what are we running from--or perhaps, the more logical question--what "keeps us running" at such high speeds and in such constant stimulation that our face-to-face language is literally being taken away from us ?

* * *

In THE SUN article mentioned above,  Nicholas Carr admits "there are broad social and economic changes underway that reward Internet use. If you cherish the ability to concentrate deeply and be reflective, you need to set aside time to read and think every day, so that those circuits in your brain don’t get erased."

What does it take these days to center us? What happens when our only "me time" occurs on a daily commute or in front of a TV screen? Somehow I doubt that adding a favorite Web page to my "bookmarks" list will give me satisfying inner-reflection or deeper digestion of the real world around me.

Or is it too much to hope for a pendulum swing in the brain--back to a time when we could go for a day, half a week, without high speed anything...? I don't know, but I want to believe it is possible. For now, I'll know my power to reflect and connect presents itself quietly throughout my day--first, in the decision to turn off my computer. At least for the rest of the afternoon.

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