Down the rabbit holes of contemporary life

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff

Duff ‘n Stuff, Oct. 2, 2012

This is the era of many portals.

It’s the cabal of tech-life; this vast sea of holes down which we all fall – or are expected to fall – daily.

My friend Gina calls it the “interwebs,” which makes me laugh, not just because of her funny, nerdy delivery of the word, but because she subtly suggests a cool disdain, a healthy wariness of the Internet. It’s a cautionary reminder of society’s preoccupation with the multiple screens with which we obscure our faces.

My teenagers have helped to propagate this caution in me. They, like most American teens who grew up on the “worldwide web,” have a habitual tendency to point their beautiful faces downward toward a screen.

Our lives have shifted and the world now includes a backdrop pervaded by desktops, laptops, tablets, cell phones, smartphones and game system consoles.

Like it or not, technology will dominate life as we know it until … when…?  I don’t know. That’s for the sociologists and the anthropologists to study. I imagine it will be until that point at which these gadgets become less new, less novel. Luddites (like my mom) are lucky to be unbothered by such ruminations and retain a certain ignorant bliss. But the rest of us are already chained. Are we all becoming just the sum parts of our websites and pages? “Nah, not me,” we claim.

There have been other eras of extreme change. Think of these: the Agricultural Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution. We’ve always moved on; have gotten used to the new way of life and eventually took it for granted, continued, as we always seem to do in the Western world, to embrace modernity and move on to the next thing.

I find myself pushing my equipment aside willfully, as if resisting a decadent dessert, and groping for the pastures of Whidbey Island like the figure in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.”

“Christina’s World,” tempera on gessoed panel by Andrew Wyeth, 1948. Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

The interwebs, for me, evoke a kind of spidery danger; a trapped or anxious sort of feeling, because I’ve learned that the holes of the Internet are not all as cool as Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, nor are they created with such beautiful language and art. The interwebs, Dear Reader, can be both mind-numbing and soul sucking. It’s then I reach for an antidote: a book, some music, a person, or I get outside and hop on my bike to go visit a cow.

My work requires me to be on the interwebs often. I think I finally understand the plight of the rat featured in the phrase “rat race.” Get online, website, website, website, Facebook Patricia, email, email, email, email, email, email, Facebook Duff, email, email, email, email, email, email, Facebook WLM, over to Twitter, quick!, update LinkedIn, try PinIt, here’s Red Clay, try Hive, here’s Behance, get Google +, now Tumblr, what’s Buzzfeed?, email, email, email, email, email, email, go back to FB, follow that tweet, follow your followers, deadline, do the blog, Tweet! (No! Too many words, stupid), blog, Facebook, blog, blog, blog, blog, blah, blah, blahhhhhhhhhhh, help meeeeeeee …

But, then there’s another way to look at it. (Note previous advice to self about seeking out music, literature, art or a conversation with a person or some livestock.)

The one good thing that I can say about the evolution of technology is that a thing like Facebook, and other channels to nether regions, has made the world smaller, more connected. And, although it can give you a hangover if you don’t use it wisely, Facebook does an excellent job of keeping one’s personal, world conversation going.

Sometimes when I’m on the phone with my friend Joni she’ll say, “I’m reading Yeats and I’m going to oracle you.”  And then I picture her closing her eyes and swirling her finger over the book and opening to a poem. She then reads me something extraordinary and often unexpectedly pertinent to the moment.

Facebook and all the best features of the worldwide interwebs can be like oracles from the rest of the world. Close your eyes, open it up and see what comes to you. A momentary connection with a faraway friend is satisfying. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like I live just down the street from my sister Emily in Boston, who I miss everyday.

But, remember, don’t give all yourself over to the interwebs. Save some for the irreplaceable and lovely, face-to-face life.

Here’s an oracle for you divined from a portal to the poems of William Butler Yeats:

Never give all the heart

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

From the heart,

Patricia Duff

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