Rendered Fat Content


Salvator Rosa:
Diogenes Casting Away His Bowl (1661–1662)

"I might be someone other than who I pretend to be …"

My great great grandmother, born in the eighteen forties, lived to be almost a hundred. During her life, she experienced in her youth a medieval-quality existence as an immigrant on two great migrations from New York into Florida following Gadson's campaign and then on into Texas. As a young wife, she traveled the Oregon Trail clear to Oregon on horseback. By the time she died, WW2 had ended. People were flying. Just a few years before I was born, this world had already invented most of what we would readily recognize today, but in more primitive forms. Now, all those newspapers and magazines, radios and televisions visit us via a single medium, one we carry access to with machines small enough to comfortably fit into a pocket and powerful enough to utterly distract us from ourselves. My great great grandmother was a life-long pioneer. Her great great grandson, a slave.

I admit my addiction.
This admission contributes nothing toward any treatment or cure. It has become a fact of my life that I am connected. It's a fair question to ask to what I am connected and to what I am addicted. The thing about social media might be just how satisfyingly isolated it insists upon me becoming. I hold access to any information with which my heart might desire to connect. While driving over Snoqualmie Pass on Thursday, The Muse was accessing current papers on treating the disease she's contracted, reading them out loud, and discussing them with me, conducting a graduate seminar in medicine. I need not stick my nose outside and smell the weather, for I hold access to The National Weather Service which will gladly inform me upon demand, upon my whim, and not charge me anything for the information. I listen to books and baseball games, read any of dozens of newspapers, access my magazines, visit the world's great museums and borrow images to adorn my essays. I can even watch episodes of defunct television series projected backwards, with the voice track doctored to sound like the actors were sucking helium, all to satisfy a whim.

Then, old friends invite us to spend the weekend at their relative's primitive cabin, offline, with light limited to a single inadequate solar panel, flashlights, and candles. They claim that one can get a cell signal if standing at a far corner of the property, but just a weak one. Neither of us have been spotted over there stretching back into this century or even the prior one. We spent the afternoon in conversation, reading physical books, and walking a historical trail. The Muse practiced casting her fly rod in the grass, preparing to wet a fly in the morning. I chilled wine in the river and found a wild huckleberry bush. We ate meals out of hand, on the deck, nothing formal.

It felt refreshing to abandon my constant companion. I found I could tell the time by watching the shadows cast by the advancing sun or even by checking the watch on my wrist. I did not need to phone in the inquiry, as I used to in my youth—"At the tone, the time will be …"— or reference my computer, which does damned little actual computing. It's millions of times more powerful than all the computers in the world at the time of my great great grandmother's death, but never lives up to its full potential, it being too busy delivering trivia. I imagine that life once seemed somehow more essential, not merely an adjunct to oceans of wandering information. I live a distracted life now. When my phone (which I rarely use as a phone) reports that I averaged eight hours and ten minutes per day of use last week, a decrease of fifteen percent from the previous week, I hardly blink. It might have reported that I had somehow felt the need to amend my existence for eight hours and ten minutes on average over that week of my non-refundable life, and I might have noticed. I might have even cared.

My great great grandmother lived the first half of her life on the edge of wilderness. She, by modern accounting, lived a narrow existence, one with thin horizons. Yet even she managed to meander across this country, mostly at the speed of a walking horse. She birthed a passel of kids and outlived two husbands. She died with both feet firmly planted in the modern era and bequeathed this world to people like me. I hardly feel worthy. Have I advanced the cause? I cannot say whether this place is better for my passage or even if I was intended to improve anything. Whatever! I suspect that I might have always held a higher, deeper purpose than chasing lights and shadows across a tiny screen all the live-long day. It can't matter how much screen time I log. I might be someone other than who I pretend to be online.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver