In a world where almost everything is now on demand, you'd think our lives would be easier, fuller, more textured. Who would have believed that we could make a list of entertainment we wanted to watch, and it would be there, waiting for us? Imagine getting notices from people interested specifically in what we like, delivered right to our personal mailbox. One would have never dreamed that new Apps would allow us to navigate the globe, simplify tasking, pay bills, book flights and comment on it all, making us feel part of the conversation at the epicenter of all the information flow we've personally curated for ourselves.
I don't know about you, but I got more feeds then I could read. My movie Q was gigantic. My list of special interests was starting to look like The Library Of Congress. I spent more time sifting through the information I wanted to read or watch, then reading or watching it. When I finally did have time to catch up, I watched an entire season of a series in a single night so I could catch up with the new episodes on TV, which had been jamming up in my DVR. Some of the stuff I was interested in before, I could care less about now, but who had time to unsubscribe? My quest for information and my inability to maintain its flow began to give me anxiety.
When I came to Santa Fe, I promised I’d put as much time into a real, physical life as I did into my virtual life. It didn’t take long before I realized that inadvertently I’d become far more intentional about the information I’d gathered about the life I want then actually living the life I want (which had paled in comparison to the information I’d stockpile about it). I suddenly asked myself, “What’s this vast and virtual bucket list really for?”
I soon discovered that the more I’d continued to intentionally curate options for my downtime the more I’d spent my downtime sifting through the options I’d curated. How had this happened?
Online, I’d felt in charge. The virtual world was instantly engaging and constantly inviting me to comment as though my opinions actually mattered. My new personal equity was starting to be measured by the number of total strangers who agree with me while my in-person network of friends continued to shrink and the ones I did have, I hadn’t sat face to face with in quite awhile. I had to admit that, in a way, dealing with them virtually is easier anyway.
So I then asked myself, “If the Internet just up and vanished tomorrow morning, forcing me to look suddenly at my actual life in real time how would I fare?”
Would I be able to determine accurately what my new values and priorities were, without Goggling or sharing? Would I venture out into the new village if I couldn’t MapQuest it? Would real life in real time live up to my expectations like the Internet did? Would I take a picture of what I saw along the way without the incentive of a Facebook page to post on?
I did unplug. I limited my Internet access to half of what it had been. I opted out of the feeds that didn’t directly apply to the physical life I realized I had to re-learn.
I soon discovered that feeling real “live highs” (that had become far more of a rarity) took a bit more time and physical effort than I’d remembered. For a while, the pace of real time had me cynically rolling my eyes. I hadn’t stood in a line for a while. It had been a long time since I’d gotten lost because I couldn’t find a street sign and actually had to talk to a real stranger. I felt uncomfortable sitting alone in a café overhearing other people’s conversations and not being able to add my own comment.
By the end of the first week, it had become painfully apparent that even I had been lulled into thinking virtual Information about life and other’s lives was actually real life. I’d been hoodwinked into thinking that the Information I’d customized specifically to me, actually reflected the real life around me, which I discovered was far more random and disorganized than I’d remembered.
Life without the Internet was a lot messier but in exchange for committing to a real life I got to see the hot morning sun beat down on an adobe wall turning it a glowing orange. I got to smell the scent of chili peppers being roasted in the nearby restaurant ally. I got to pass a native American Indian huddled in a doorway. Her face like an Appellation apple doll with her crafts spread out in front of her. I got to rummage through an antique store and even answer a few questions for shoppers who were caught in the euphoria of feathering their new nest. I mistakenly drove down a dusty rutty road that led me to Pueblo village I’d have otherwise never seen. I stood in a field as the giant sky above me pushed me down and reminded me that the world wasn’t just about me.
I’m still a loner, a writer, and artist. I’m still more of an observer of life and a voyeur who has always walked on the edge of humanity, which is why for a while the Internet was so easily addictive. However, being back out discovering the real world has reminded me how unreal the Internet world really is, what it can’t capture, what it doesn’t replace and the voids it simply cannot fill. Depth, texture, nuisance and memories that I’ll actually retain don’t live on my Mac. I can't binge-watch real life.