Until recently, I could lose myself in the Internet, but I ddn’t feel like it. I could flip my screen to another window, glance at lines of text, pretend to read, and get into a mode where I learn and absorb nothing, only a sense of urgency and overwhelm.
I don’t think human beings evolved to represent our thoughts in multiple words and paragraphs at the drop of a hat. Maybe this technology allows us to say more than we can truly establish for ourselves. Maybe I can’t just conjure up a representation of myself in the five minutes it takes to type out an e-mail.
I’ve read that “primitive” peoples spend a lot of time sitting around doing very little. Stories are shaped over generations. Wisdom and medicine are traditions passed down slowly over the generations. “Primitive” children aren’t running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It is only our “advanced” children that behave like that. What’s “advanced” about always being busy, always being in motion? Is it even healthy?
Did I even want to ask that question, or did the question come out of me compulsively? Did I compulsively string sentences together, believing that’s the way I should think/relate to the world? Am I busy looking for something to state, to prove, as if that will justify my own identity?
Being With Me Used to Be Easier
I remember when I first started using computers to communicate. I was 14 years old, and lonely. At school I had trouble relating to people. I spent a lot of time just sitting and thinking and reading, and being with myself. At that time I don’t remember having the same issue I have now with boredom. Without computers, I didn’t seem to mind being with me. I relaxed, and somehow, out of that relaxation, came interest and drive. But I didn’t drive myself like I started to at an older age. Back then, I could be.
I wish I remembered more of that age. I think I had longer conversations with myself. I knew myself better. I had a sense of what I was curious about, what moved me, what kinds of thoughts preoccupied me. But none of it was distressing or perplexing like it is now. I just was. I knew how to chill out, because I didn’t have a zillion distractions.
I could read for hours, sitting in a chair, or lying in my bed.
I never looked around the house at stacks of books and asked, “Do any of these interest me enough to read?” Once I got into a book, I devoured it. I must have had emotions. I must have felt something, and connected, and related to what I was reading. Otherwise I wouldn’t have read it.
Until less than two weeks ago, I’d often find myself wondering if I should be reading something else, as words on the page are just words. Somehow I used to be able to experience between the lines.
Between the lines – is that where I live? In those moments of nothing, where I just sit and relax and don’t compel myself to do or go or pay attention to anything?
We can talk about loss of self, but until we talk about where and when that self exists, it’s a theoretical discussion. How can I refer to a self that hasn’t had any time to coalesce or hang out alone anymore, a self that is always on-the-go, available at the click of a mouse or the ring of a phone? What kind of self is that?
It’s more like a hive member. We even have names that reflect this new reality of how selves related to selves. For example, “flash mobs.” — people just gathering in a place, presumably for some good. But who has time anymore to sit and really think through the good that is the basis of gathering? We are constantly invited to “Events” that just give rise to more “Events,” when the day-to-day flow of our experience is just moving our bodies through the motions of showing up.
I can’t show up anymore. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere I want to be. Except with me.
When Being With Me Became My Choice
Lately, when I came home from work around 3:30 one day, I lay on my couch and had a nap for 40 minutes. Then I sat in my room on my bed, and wandered around there and the couch for the rest of the day until dinner.
Sure, I did a bit of cleaning here and there, made dinner with my boyfriend, but I tried not to force myself to do much of anything. Better to sit and think and just chat with myself than to push myself to do something that I don’t even necessarily want to do. Better to consider, discuss, reflect, than to simply scurry on to something that won’t have meaning because I won’t have time to really consider it.
This evening was the fourth performance of a play that I’m in. The second and third performances, I was a nervous wreck, and felt bad about how I did out there. Today, I was so relaxed that I felt completely in control. I was inhabiting my character and the space. I felt more intimately connected to the words and the other actors on stage than I have before, freer and yet grounded.
Afterwards, instead of deeply doubting myself, I had the calm sense of a job well done. And I believe that a lot of this was because, while I was laying around “doing nothing” this afternoon, I also found myself going over the play in my head, replaying it in my mind and imagining myself performing, really getting into the nuance and feeling behind every interaction. I actually had fun with it, laying on my bed just imagining. I don’t remember having such a detailed yet relaxed session of performance preparation before. And what happened today was an accident. It was what my mind did when I wasn’t pushing it to do some other arbitrary action, such as cleaning my bedroom floor. It just happened without me trying to summon it.
I suspect that if I want to stay in this mind space, I’m going to have to sacrifice the so-called information superhighway. To me, it seems more like a fire hose anyways. It always knocks me over. And I feel lousy when that happens. Instead of enriching my sense of self, it overwhelms me with a wash of images and text that I have a difficult time integrating. I simply can’t care about everything, or process it in a sensible way. I’m a person, not a machine.
I suspect that we are capable of caring and loving far fewer things than society seems to demand of us. We are probably more comfortable sitting around eating, dandling babies, and breathing in the breeze than flitting about trying to do a million things, or understanding hundreds of Facebook statuses, tweets, and e-mails every day.
Not everything can be significant. It’s a mistake to assume we should be able to arbitrarily relate to everything that comes to us. It’s a mistake to assume that more — more information, more events, more topics, more media — is better. Maybe I’ll feel stupid or disconnected, not “knowing” the way we know now. Or maybe I’ll feel more human. It won’t be any great stand I’ll be making. Just a commitment to hanging out with me.