Thu 8 Jul 2010
we went away for a week and i was mostly offline and i did not die.
yes, gather round, all ye internet hordes, and quiver at my testimony. i unplugged and lived to tell the tale.
here’s the shocking part: it was easy. hell, i didn’t even flop around on the ground like a dying carp, gasping for wireless. i expected to. i was ready. Dave was under strict instructions to carry me up the hill to civilization anytime i was noted typing notes into thin air. but no signs of withering or requiring plug-in were forthcoming.
instead, we both wandered up the hill and online from time to time to connect with our magical worlds and responsibilities out in the ether. but mostly, we hung out below. played cards. walked on the beach. had a bonfire. in the early mornings, normally reserved for mobilizations that small military juntas would envy, we lounged in jammies teaching Oscar how to play Junior Monopoly. Posey stacked the little property houses and the sun sparkled on the water. only the birds tweeted.
apparently Oscar has a knack for property acquisition and his father and i had better be good to that kid or we’ll find ourselves renting our own bed from the wee robber baron oh, say, next week.
but other than the shame of being soundly beaten in a competitive arena by a four-year-old and the mortification of having Dave actually notice me care that i was losing to a four year old, i remained hale and hearty throughout.
it was too easy. i am suspicious.
i don’t believe in the great divide our culture tends to build around that which is technological in its origin or medium and that which is not.
living in a much-hyped “digital age” means we inevitably also live in the midst of a discursive backlash against the digital, a sociocultural conversation positioning whatever is not digital on the side of the pure and the unchanged. i don’t buy it. no, i did not put unplug and find myself suddenly living a life to make a Disney Princess eat her heart out, bluebirds perched on my shoulders and wholeness and wholesomeness magically within reach.
both versions of that not-quite-Cinderella story are lies. the prince is not an iPad. neither is it a world with only rotary phones and singing birds.
to me, the “digital age” is not about the technology at all, but about people. we fool ourselves in emphasizing the so-called digital nature of contemporary society: we are post-digital already. we have been for years.
post-digital is not “after digital,” but “after the digital becomes commonplace.” the technology has become so omnipresent that we need to start looking beyond its novelty and allure to the human practices it enables and limits and shapes. we are not going back, barring cataclysm, to whatever pastoral analog version of society people’s selective memories like to cling to. but so long as we remain focused on the digital trappings that mark our society as visibly different from its predecessors, neither do we move towards any cultural maturity in this new form.
we are the equivalent of a 40 year old woman still enraptured by the oh-my-golly of her training bra. it ain’t cute anymore. and it’s getting limiting. if we actually want to mature into the possibilities of this new form we’ve taken, we need to focus past the sparkly bits on the surface and invite others to do more than snap our straps.
the part of post-digital life that seems hardest for some of us enthusiasts is boundaries. we have opened ourselves to community and connectivity and near 24/7 availability and presence and persona, and in the end, there are only so many hours in a day and so many followers and friends one can do anything meaningful with. yet going offline makes us sweaty. who are we without our appendages, our screens?
then we do it and it feels…perfectly normal. occasionally irksome, sometimes pleasant, momentarily – if we are lucky – extraordinary. like life. rather like i feel if i go braless for a morning: wouldn’t want to try to go to work that way, but it has its moments. most of which are about other things, particularly those things with small hands who clamour Mommy! Mommy! and make me long – lovingly – for the civility and distance of twitter interactions. until the laughing starts, and then i’m hook, line & sinker, never known anything in flesh or screen so beautiful as them.
i did hear more birds at the beach, and their songs made me breathe deep and slow in a way i’d forgotten to for far too long. and the radio silence meant there was more time and energy for internal things. social media is performative, and it never sleeps. nobody can entertain thousands of people a day without downtime, even in very tiny increments…not over the long haul.
still, had there been wireless at the cottage, i might have birdshit on my MacBookPro right now, people. and i suspect i’d still have found balm for my soul in the journey to the shore.
i’d like to test that theory again. soon.
how do you pace your relationship to the online world? do you go offline? does it make you anxious to be unplugged? or does being a cyborg make you feel a little dirty sometimes? what would a post-digital society look like, for you?