An Experiment

by  Christian A. Brown  |  May 26, 2013  |     No Comments

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Greetings friends, family and internet acquaintances not yet met. I’m just coming out of my rabbit hole for a few breaths of air. This is a rather exciting time for me, as I’m about three weeks from the completion of my manuscript (final draft, I hope). One day when it is out in the wild, I’ll do a few blog posts on the deconstruction and reconstruction of a project like this; how it started, the entirely different beast that it became and all the foibles, delights and agonies of the process in-between. I’m aiming to have the book to the copy editors by the end of summer, so if everything goes as quickly as I would like it to, you should have a story in your hands or on your e-readers by the holidays.

Now, onto the experiment. First, I suppose a bit of background on my working habits is necessary. I wake up early (3:30 to 4:00 am), sip a protein shake while pissing about on the internet for half an hour (BBC, mostly), then hustle off to the gym. A workout, breakfast and a shower later, I’m ready to start writing. I set a 10 page minimum for myself, which entails a shift of around 9 hours including 60 minutes worth of breaks, meals, and a walk. (Fun fact: I eat while I write and I tend to stand more than sit—odd, but it keeps the blood flowing). Keep in mind that this is on an ideal day. However, as we all know, circumstances are rarely ideal. As the primary “stay at home” spouse, I have—willingly—taken on a majority of the tasks while my partner does the nine-to-five; that leaves me with two cats and two people to clean up after. Therefor, each day laundry, vacuuming (particularly for a two cat household) and a whole bunch of other crap has to be done. On certain evenings there are social events to attend and plan for. Somewhere in there I also try to fit activities solely for my own relaxation: reading, writing something other than a manuscript, learning Japanese, playing video-games (though that pursuit is more of a collector’s hobby as I get older). And of course, being a spouse and an animal caregiver, I recognize that there are also living creatures with which I must spend some time. Even as a relatively organized and conscientious individual I always find myself at a loss for time when balancing all these needs and tasks.

I am sure that almost everyone in the free world feels or has felt the same way at one point or another. Where does the time go? I would like to think that there is a better way to track and use the hours we are given. So lately I have been analyzing my habits, looking for those slivers of time that I can snatch back. Only today, I was asking myself, how did she do it? Of course I am speaking of Cynthia, the Swiss army knife of mothers. The woman who slept as fitfully as I do, yet accomplished twice as much with her time. I think that one of her secrets, aside from an unstoppable thirst to experience everything in life, was that she was woefully technologically inept. Cynthia never had my predilection for gadgets, games and electronics. She got a PS3 because she wanted a “Netflix” box and called me almost every time that she turned it on for tech support; this consisted of entering her account details yet again, which she never saved by ‘checking’ the box I told her to. In fact, she hardly spent any time on the internet, and I am willing to bet that she had no idea what the Hell a tweet was. She only got into these avenues of technology when the cancer prevented her from going outside and making the kind of tangible connections she preferred. I would think that if she had carried down this i-verse road long enough, she would find herself just as confused about where her time was going as I do.

For that I think is the underlying problem with all this connectivity: how efficiently it can consume our time. In being so “connected”, so “on” and available, we are not only exhausting hours, but missing out on the nuances, the basics of human interaction and community. Take a look at your habits and see how many times you text a friend versus how many times you call that person. Or at how much time you spend clicking links in cyberspace, reading “updates” on people’s lives. With all the time we spend doing that, couldn’t we just send them a thoughtful email or *gasp* call the person? Let me propose another, all too common scenario, where you and your partner are in bed at night, toying with your respective personal device while the t.v. drones in the background and most of the noise in the room comes from the Real Houswives or from snickers at what you are each viewing on private screens. Here, in this situation we have two people who are physically near, yet mentally quite distant; paying a pittance of attention to the person to whom they have committed their life. We are all guilty of this, some more than others. As for myself, when I took an ugly look at my habits and tried to grasp where my time was going, I found dozens of instances throughout the day where I was connected to my “device” instead of my manuscript, my leisure, my relationships or any of my so-called important needs and tasks. All these moments where I was constantly distracting myself from things that I cherish or that I had set as my objectives. Over an hour on the average day, sometimes as many as two or three on weekends have I wasted being connected to the digital whispers of the world instead of engaging in genuine commune with friends, family and myself.

What is this self-obsessed desire that we have with cultivating our own personal silences? Is the world really so terrifying that we must look at it through glass? Rilke often spoke of silences, but never with this aloofness and often about respect. If he could see us as a society now, buried in our tiny personal mirrors, talking in hashtags and abbreviations and utterly obsessed with a world that we envy yet are afraid to enter, he would shake his head. Or laugh. Maybe cry.

Onto the “experiment” that I mentioned. I’m going to try and live without my dear, darling Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (I feel a rush of tech-lust as I talk about it, which tells you how much this pains me) for one whole week. I’m shutting off the bluetooth, 4G and wireless and I’m going to use it as a phone. You know, that quirky function it does sometimes when we’re not web-surfing, watching Youtube or texting. During the day, I’ll be turning off the modem too. Instead of web-resources, I have a wonderful Chambers Etymological Dictionary to consult; a book that is a relic from the schoolhouses of the mid 1900’s and that currently sits on my desk like an ornamentation to attest to my wordiness. This magnificent dictionary, which I somehow stumbled into the possession of as a young man, was the source of my drive to write. I remember the complexities of language and the magic of the words upon its pages as I beheld them for the first time, as if I was reading a grimoire filled with ancient spells, and it is quite shameful that I have relegated it to a prop instead of using it as a tool. I have the bloody Cambridge Guide to English Usage for stylistic and grammatical checks, which again, frowns at me from beside dear Chamber’s. Starting today, and forging ahead into this week, these will be my resources for work, and the phone and my mouth, my fingers and feet, and my God given senses will be the instruments of my interaction with the world.

Its a bit terrifying to be honest, being without this personal solitude to escape into, being without my tiny screen. I’m going to have to see the world, and talk to it and live in it. Just as my mother did, and the generations of people before the advent of smartdevices. I’m not saying that the pre-iPhone age was some golden era, far from it when considering the strife and politics of the past. Nor would I disregard or demean the enhancements to our lives that inter-connectivity has brought to our modern existences. But I think that many of us have forgotten the proper dynamics of the relationships that we share with our devices. Who is the master and who (what) is meant to serve. I don’t want to be tied to my device, I want to be tied to life. You’ll hear from me again, but probably not until my manuscript is done. In the meantime, feel free to join me in faux Amishness. Without all those tweets and status updates, it may feel lonely, and that’s okay too, because sometimes when we are alone we can appreciate how important the sound of silence can be. For the world is never really silent, but always whispering and sharing its beauty with us. It wants us to listen.

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All the best,
– C

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