Friday, July 20, 2012

Escaping Streaming Virtuality

I even joke with myself about my being an "early-onset curmudgeon." But, the truth is, I have always been a bit of an anachronism; a fan or solitude; a guy with a distaste for either conformity or blatant, conformist non-conformity; a lover of conversation over wasted hours under flashing lights and noisy, empty-headed music. I've always been a reader and a thinker. I college, I used to sit in the woods and write before the mists had lifted for the morning. I've always valued reason and good-sense over unreasonable fulfillment or risk.

The only time I ever got "in trouble" in high school was because of a piece I wrote for the school "newspaper"; a short, satirical play called Spamlet. Otherwise, not a single detention.

(It's worth a digression: The vice principal called me down to his office. He asked if I felt that the piece I wrote was appropriate for a school publication. I automatically thought he was referring to some implications of a passionate affair between Spamlet and his "best friend" Horace.  Before I could answer, he held Spamlet's soliloquy out in front of me. [He hadn't caught the affair business, which, at the time, would have been grounds for detention, at least.] "Don't you think this language is inappropriate?" He pointed to the word "quaff" in the main speech -- in which Spamlet debated whether or not to drink a glass of water, which is the main conflict in the little playlet. He thought "quaff" was a curse. "Dude, " I responded, standing. "You really ought to invest in a dictionary."  I walked out and never heard another word about it.)

In short, I have had tendencies that older people are usually associated with. And, yes, this is a anticipatory defense against those who are about to accuse me of being a curmudgeon because of what I am about to say.

I have said before that I think it is important to resist "virtuality" on some fronts in our lives. I believe in balance and, because of that, I think it is bad to lose literal touch with our world. I will not read e-books, for this reason. That is the first technological line I'm drawing. I will hold my books in my hands, thank you. I don't care how practical e-books are. The reading experience that I love involves paper; it's completely different, otherwise. Howya like them apples, you derned kids?

But I'm going to add another thing to my list: tea. I'm good with popping a K-cup into the Keurig coffee maker and getting an instant java-jolt, now and again. And they have cups for tea, but it's not for me. (Sounds like a line in a song from a musical.)

First, they don't taste as good; the water needs to boil. Second, I don't like the idea. Tea is more legendary than coffee. Tea deserves dignity. Respect. Ever hear of a Japanese coffee ceremony? While I'm not going to go all ceremonial, I will continue (I just moved away from bags, even, in the past month) to make tea with a boiled pot and hot water poured through loose tea leaves. There's a sound to the hot water pouring through the leaves; there's the scent that's released in the steam; there's a process performed at human hands. I'm going to keep that real. No machine made tea.

I do realize this hasn't done much to convince my dear readers that I am anything but a curmudgeon. (It had to be tea. Sigh.)

The thing is, it's nice to make something more slowly, sometimes. I'm not going to start making my soap out of urine and animal fat, or anything. I have no desire to go Amish. But...balance requires turning a cold shoulder to technology, here and there.

What lines do you draw? I'd love to hear what choices you all make to step out of the streaming virtuality of modern life.


  1. I am refusing to buy a smartphone. I already use other forms of virtual reality to avoid my life, and I feel certain smartphones will kill me.

    I used to feel a certain way about e-readers. Now, I enjoy using my Kindle from time to time; although it does not match the FEEL of a book, the story stays the same. If the story is good, it doesn't matter HOW I read it, just THAT I read it.

    ~ Matt

  2. Thanks, Matt -- my wife uses an e-reader, too. I use a smartphone. For me, it is just a matter of picking SOME technology to be curmudgeonly about! If I had any guts, I'd stop using the microwave.

  3. I knew we lived in a silly age recently when a friend of mine spent much of his time at a concert using his smartphone to tweet updates about each song while sharing photos with the rest of us on Facebook, as his wife, sitting next to him, used her smartphone to "like" the photos.

    The Internet has been good to me, and without my smartphone I literally would have been lost during a big roadtrip across the Midwest two months ago, but I increasingly find myself nostalgic for the quieter, pre-1995 world. We've made silence a rarity; I try to get back to that older mindset by gardening, exploring my local cathedral and its grounds, and taking long drives to browse in used bookstores.

    When I sign into Facebook, usually to read something innocuous (like how a relative's vacation is going), I'm struck by how aggressive and exhausting the experience is. I'm subjected to an endless stream of angry posts about whatever politicians, institutions, and public figures my friends and acquaintances happen to hate at the moment. In an age of plenty and prosperity (even in the depths of a recession) it all feels so angry and ungrateful--but publicly questioning it has already become abnormal. (It's why, though, the two rules for my own blog have always been: no anger, and no politics.)

    1. It does tend to feel, to me, like holding the castle in a siege, sometimes. So much constant input; such an assault of ideas and, yes: anger. (Anger that is usually expressed in poor arguments, worse yet.) No question that the technology is wonderful -- we just need breaks from it; cathedral walks or tea breaks. I fear a little for people who don't allow themselves breathing time.