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Unf**king My Relationship with Technology
c is for cat
catvalente

Cross-posted from my tumblr, with gifs, because that’s how I roll over there, because I think it’s important enough to say twice.

I gotta be honest, my relationship with technology has gotten a little toxic lately. I stare at the Internet and I can’t make myself not do that, but the advance of microblogging and slow decline of the kind of thoughtful long-form blogging that brought me to the Internet Wurld in the first place. The robots in my house, they grab me and hold me to their cold metal breasts and I can’t get away.

Part of it is that it makes a really good procrastination tool. And that I am a tool. But most of the time I feel like my attention span and my ability to feel connected to the world physically and emotionally has taken a load of buckshot to the face.

This is a common existential problem, I believe. The all-net giveth and the all-net taketh. And knowing it’s dimpling your soul with spiritually radioactive debris doesn’t actually stop any of us from drinking from the cyber firehose.

Believe it or not, I have a fix for this.

I have had a lot of ideas in my life. Some stupid, some great, some workable, some very impractical indeed. What follows has to go down as one of my best.

Once a week, and we might even bump it up to twice, we have what we call an Abbey Night in our house. We turn off all but the most necessary power. We build a fire and light candles and hurricane lamps. And for the evening, we engage only in 19th century activities.

No music unless you make it yourself. No screens. All phones turned completely off. No writing unless it’s longhand. Tea means a kettle on the stove.

We still cook because we have a gas stove, but if it were electric I’d have dinner ready before the sun went down. We knit, we read to each other, we talk. We play with the dogs. We play cards and cuddle.

And a funny thing happens: when you turn all this stuff off, time dilates. There is SO MUCH TIME in an evening without the stuff that sucks it down: TV, Internet, phone calls and texting. There is attention to spare, and a sudden ebullience of discovering what we can do with all these hours.

Now, I now the 19th century was actually a shitty time to be an intellectual chick. Downton Abbey is a TV show about rich people, not a model for life. It’s the choice to turn it off that makes this powerful. We use the 19th century as an easy yardstick for what to turn on and off. We’re not super strict about it. It’s the idea of stepping back and indulging in what Kim Stanley Robinson once called paleolithic pleasures: other people, voices, fire, things you can do with your hands.

I’m not saying humans weren’t meant to have our shiny toys—we made them, they are ours, and very human, too. But there is something profound about going to ground this way, just once in awhile. It resets you, it brings deep calm. It’s like techno-meditation or the deep conditioning treatments you don’t use on your hair every day, but as a luxury every few weeks to keep things bright and strong.

When we’ve shared this with other people, they, like we, have been nervous at first, when the lights go off. They don’t know what to do. But in a few minutes it switches over to excitement and laughing and intense connection, delight, joy. Whispers in the dark.

Sunday was an Abbey Night. We roasted a chicken and read Lorca by candlelight and one of our guests played her cello while the other played guitar, we told stories aloud and sang, and we invited strangers we met on the island roads to our table where we fed them and gave them whiskey and read Stanislaw Lem to them until the ferry came to take them back to the real world.

And we all knew without the Rules, we’d have spent that night fixing websites or answering email and not talking much. It’s not that we’re bad people. It happens. It’s a technological world. But instead we had this precious evening by soft light that we’ll remember for a long time.

And that’s a point too: I remember each Abbey Night with strong clarity—most evenings melt into one long strain of work and vegging out and whatever. But these nights—I remember every moment.

So I’m posting this as a gift: I encourage you to try it, for it is magic. Of course, I’m sure YOU don’t have any TV at all and spend every day in a rapture of intentionality and mindfulness and you’re only even reading this on a computer you made out of coconut shells and superiority.

But for those of you who have issues with how you interact with time and tech like I do, this is an amazing thing. It is like a spell cast.

Interpret our rules however you like. I mean, the fridge stays on in our house and everything. But this is the single biggest tool I have for unfucking my tech-addled heart and reminding myself that I have a body, I have an interior life that needs more than the frayed ropes of energy and attention and connection and spoons that I’ve been working with. When I feel like a floating brain connected to nothing, which is more than I’d like, this brings me back.

It is good to be reminded that I have the ability to be grounded and full, that the world is not slipping away quite as fast as I think.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


I highly recommend "The Sabbath" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, probably the best Jewish mystic of the 20th century. It's a very old idea. :)

I have nothing really useful to add, but icon love! >.>

This is a great idea,, that I will choose to ignore. In a similar vein though, I have a terrific friendly local game store with a great group of regulars. A couple times a week we get together and play board games for afew hours which gets us rolling dice and staying off the computer.

I instituted something like this over the summer after some horribly toxic times online. Basically, no computer/phone use in the evenings. It was delightful, even though I usually ended up going to bed by 9:30pm. I should probably resurrect this practice, because the toxicity is increasing again.


I wish I thought I could get my roommate to sign off on this, but a) I'm not sure I can sell him on it, and b) I'm not really keen to have that level of emotional intimacy with him on account that he's an ex, and I prefer some emotional space there.

Still, I suppose I could go all candles and ukulele and books in my room and writing office...

I love this idea. So so so much.
Going to have to implement it.

Sorry, it took like four times to read this. I kept getting distracted by the shiny gifs.

I'm glad to hear it's not just me... I have a really hard time reading anything with a lot of those in it, because I can't focus on the text - my eyes keep getting yanked back to the moving images. It's the same for web sites with animated ads on them. The only way I can get through a longish article on a page that has anything moving on it is to either disable images or copy and paste the text of it into a word processor or something. I don't know if it's an ADHD thing or what...

There's a browser extension from Evernote called Clearly that can help somewhat with this - it hides sidebars and things like that, thereby getting rid of most of the ads on blogs, news sites, etc., but it doesn't help with animated GIFs embedded directly in text.

Very cool. That's exactly what I need on my browser. I'll have to check it out!

I think on most browsers hitting the escape key after the page has loaded will cancel the animation of the gifs.

Just checked, and it definitely works on Firefox.

I like the sound of this, although I suspect it's less fun if you live alone, since the connecting-with-other-people part wouldn't be there unless you make a point of always inviting people over then. I'd pretty much just be sitting around reading by myself... And actually, reading books is often one of my big time-sinks anyway - it's very easy for me to get sucked in and read half a book in a single sitting, though I probably wouldn't be as likely to do that if I was reading by candlelight because I'd probably get eyestrain more easily. So I'm not sure how well it would work for me at present, but it's something I might like to try if I'm living with other people again at some point, or maybe for the occasional evening with friends.

It's definitely less fun when you do it alone AND not by choice b/c the electricity has gone out. On no-ZESCO evenings I usually write letters (b/c it's not worth using enough candles/flashlight to be able to read, unless I'm really in the middle of something) or watch the Sarah Jane Adventures on my laptop (which isn't really in the spirit of things, but I'm going to run out of SJA pretty soon) and go to bed early b/c there's not that much else to do and the cockroaches are always bolder by candlelight.

This is an astonishingly excellent idea and I would love to link it but some of my friends are all devout and shit and cannot abide the F-word. I think that'd be the only thing that keeps this post from going viral. :-)

<hugedork>

At the bottom when I saw "mirrored from cmv.com" I thought "Holy cow! You got a three-letter dot-com domain name for your personal blog? That must have cost a fortune!"

</hugedork>

Edited at 2012-02-28 08:14 pm (UTC)

No, it's my full name.com.

Yeah, I checked the link and got what you were saying - just had a sort of eyes-bug-out moment I wanted to share. :)

Hmm. This sounds like a damn fine idea.
(Also your gifs make me giggle like mad every day:))

One of the best parts of being a religious Jew is that I've had a day sort of like that built into every week of my life. On the Jewish Sabbath, I make use of electricity, but I can't touch it. Which is to say, there are lights on in my apartment, but I can't adjust them. Similarly, I can't watch TV, or use my computer or my telephone.

Of course, one key difference is that most activities of creation aren't allowed, so I can't write at all, not even longhand. This may seem like a downside, but it's actually nice to have a break from writing too. Growing up, it meant a day with no homework, and also a day when I could take a nap and not feel guilty about it.

Now, as an adult, it's also a day to connect with friends, because without all the shiny gadgets, the only way to connect to the world is in person.

I like this idea. But I feel like if I tried to do it right now, I would just get really, really lonely, as I spend most of my time at home physically alone, and rely on the internet for social interaction. Once I move, though, I am TOTALLY doing this.

This is sort of how I felt about my trip out to Peaks this past weekend, and why I like to travel to tiny inns in rural places. I think its also why I resist e-readers. Every night I lay down with an actual physical book and do nothing but read it for half an hour, and if I was using an e-reader it would be much like sitting at my computer, flipping between functions.

This may be relevant to your interests. I imagine you could sign the pledge without reservation. :)

http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/unplug/

My mom used to do this, in what she called "power failure days." Typically it was a nice day, where it was safe to open the windows and shut off the air conditioning (hey, we live in Florida, that's rare!) and all other electronic devices. Nothing with electricity could be used, period.

It's a little eerie how silent the house gets without the underhum of all that current going on around you. But it's very peaceful, and encourages other activities, and just makes you actually stop for a while and find all those things that you typically ignore because of the distractions of your noisy, shiny toys.

Thanks for the great reminder; I'm going to schedule a power failure day now. :)

This is such a lovely idea. It made me think about the nights when I would play piano, bind books, or draw. I haven't done any of those things for a very long time.... I think I will try something similar with my family.

That sounds like a lovely idea. I might try it at home, but with fairy lights instead of candles since my cats can't be trusted not to knock over everything in their path.

We had a power outage last week. We got home from work and the power was out and it came back on three hours later as we were getting ready for bed. It was one of the best evenings I've had in months. We read and talked and played together by candlelight. As I fell asleep, I was thinking, "I wish we had power outages more often."

I just spoke to my wife about this idea and we are going to try it. I think we are going to add a caviat that you can't talk about computer stuff either, and I'm really not sure how my 16 year old son is going to react to that since it is 98% of his subject matter.

Great idea! Thanks for sharing!

Concentrate on the souls of your feet

John Kurman

2012-02-29 11:40 pm (UTC)

I think I'm lucky. I work with wax in making sculptures. Heating a metal tool in the flame of an alcohol lamp, and then applying it to the wax, watching the wax melt, using gravity and surface tension, watching the congealing wave front, setting it down to cool, all require a studied calm.

I've heard many people say they get very relaxed just watching me. Kind of a whole Tai Chi vibe to it.

As for you, 1) lose the gifs 2) stand up, concentrate upon the souls of your feet. Do it every now and then. That brings the consciousness down out of the head.


Re: Concentrate on the souls of your feet

catvalente

2012-03-01 01:39 am (UTC)

The gifs, as explained, are part of the gestalt of my tumblr, I brought them here for the first and only time in ten years of keeping this blog because of that--it'll be ok for one entry. You don't need to tell me. ;)

s'cool. Didn't mean to be terse about it.

Having once been a circus geek in the It Department, I'm trying to work my way back through selected technology, without much success. So, I completely dig where you are coming from.

I think... I think we all will figure out what to abandon in the end. I keep on thinking about the Tasmanians, who, in the end, really got it down to maybe twelve tool items, and no shelter, but that's sacrificing a lot of creature comforts.