I turn on the water fountain by my back door and the sound of the bubbling, gurgling, and purling is picked up by blue jays close by in a tree. It’s as if they too are part of what I switched on, a sort of morning greeting to me. I noticed yesterday when painting a garden structure that hummingbirds hovered near by me all morning, as if watching to see what I am doing. I should learn from the birds to be more attentive, to be inquisitive, more willing to let myself go a little, and explore the marvels about me. Years of computer sitting have robbed me of some of my natural curiosity, and replaced it with an unnatural one. Rather than find inspiration from looking at trees or lakes, I learned how to be satisfied with clicking on links on the web.
At first it was such a novelty, this new-fangled joy of clicking my way through the electronic universe. I would stay up all night on a work night, restlessly–no, feverishly–jumping about on the web, with no particular concern or focus on content. My clicking frenzies began before the coming of Google or Yahoo, before anybody had ever heard of a search engine. An engine before then was a sophisticated piece of machinery you put under the hood of a car to make it go fast. People instead made long lists of links on their websites and categorized the links according to their own schemes. Often I would come across lists created by word association or free-flowing thought connectivity, so that I did not know from one minute to the next what I might be looking at. The search engines brought some sanity to how the web is best navigated, and has allowed a few of us to get to bed earlier, knowing that we can pick up a more predictable trail tomorrow.
I would go through withdrawal agony if I were to suddenly become unplugged from the web. Yet now that I do not have to sit at a computer all day long for five days a week, and do not carry a smart phone with me, my consciousness no longer seeks the uncontrollable desire to scroll and click. In only a few days of spending much less time bound to the web and the screen, I sense old and forgotten sensibilities coming back to me that I had gradually lost or misplaced. Being outdoors and standing on my two feet has given me the pleasure of encountering spiders and their masterful ability to construct web sites over night. On days when I look up into the sky and see large puffy clouds, I am able to recall memories from childhood of how the world looked so fresh and majestic to me. Even the rats chewing on my auto wiring the other day held some sort of fascination for me. I thought about the nature of a rat’s nest, what it might mean to have to build one inside of somebody’s car, and, really now, what a stupid idea that rat had come up with.
I don’t know how best to quantify what it is I have given up or lost in years of working with computers. The world in many ways became so much smaller, given the ability to quickly look at web cams from all over the world, or quickly look up the balance of my checkbook. I’m not so sure I’m happier with a smaller world. I did like the big one. I am grateful that I worked with computers all these years rather than dig ditches for a living, but I ponder whether something innately human and, simultaneously, divine, isn’t quickly being left behind. Entertaining myself by acquiring knowledge is not inherently harmful to me, but through my own obsessive habits I probably managed to kill off an important, undefinable, soulful part of me. Either I killed it or I put it into a deep coma. Now I feel the need to bring it back to life.