Someone wrote that on Facebook the other day and it has stuck with me ever since: I want my pre-Internet brain back.
I don’t think I even hit “like” on it, which I feel a certain amount of remorse about now. Oh well, another item for the great list of remorse that I lie awake at night pondering and reviewing.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Nicholas Carr’s excellent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. (Nothing good, alas, dear reader, as you may have suspected.) You can find that post by typing Life With No Computer into the little search box on the left side of the screen.
I wrote that post two years ago and haven’t thought a lot about it since. At some level I have, no doubt, willfully kept it from my mind. I know I spend too much time on the computer. I’ll bet you might be able to say the same, dear reader. If you’re reading this, you may have become aware of this post on Facebook, or you may have received an email notification, or you may have even been Googling something else and just come across it.
Chances are you are looking at this blog with Facebook lurking just below the surface, with your email open at the same time. If you’re like me, you might well be listening to music and even carrying on a text conversation on your phone. And you may even be watching a game on tv or a film on Netflix.
It all adds up to a tremendous amount of distraction. We get so used to it that it’s really a small miracle that we can concentrate on anything at all for any length of time anymore.
I hadn’t realized (or admitted?) just how bad it is with me until I went to my favourite coffee shop the other day (Caffe Beano, of course) where I’ve been gamely, even grimly, adding 500 words a day to my new novel.
(“New novel?” you may ask. “What the hell happened to your old novel?” I’m glad you asked. The old novel, titled The Piano Teacher, will be published by my little publishing company in a few months, on the first day of spring. Trust me, you’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the months to come. And now there’s a new novel. Quite simple, actually.)
On any account, there I was at Caffe Beano, coffee procured, notebook out, pencil sharpened (metaphorically speaking, it’s a mechanical pencil actually, a Pentel Kerry .07 in which I use B leads). (These are things you need to know, friends, as far as I’m concerned.)
I found my reading glasses, no longer optional, and felt around for my phone (an iPhone 5S) but it wasn’t in that pocket where I’d found my glasses and it wasn’t in any other pocket and it wasn’t in my bag so that could only have meant it was sitting on my table at home, charging away, while I was at Caffe Beano without it.
OMG! I DID NOT HAVE MY PHONE! I LEFT HOME WITHOUT MY PHONE! HOLY SHIT, WHAT NOW?! DO I GO HOME AND GET IT? BUT IT’S COLD OUTSIDE. OH NO OH NO OH NO! HEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLPPPPPPPPP!
Ok, ok, ok, ok, ok, calm down, it will be all right, it’s just for an hour, we’re not expecting anyone to call anyway, Facebook will take care of itself for an hour, no significant other to text insignificant nothings to us anyway, we don’t need it, come to think of it, why do we think we even need it ever? It’s not like we’re a doctor on call. Or in the fresh bloom of love. Or any bloom of anything, for that matter. Relax. Breathe. Just breathe. In and out. Sloooooowly. We don’t need the phone.
This way, we reasoned, we’ll be able to devote 100% of our concentration on the matter at hand, which is to add 500 words to the new and as yet unnamed novel.
Well, that was the gist of the internal dialogue.
I petulantly scratched a few words onto the page, random nouns unconnected by verbs or conjunctions or prepositions. I fidgeted. I sighed.
I had nothing. I quit and got back home to my phone. No calls. No texts. No emails. No nothing. So why was I even worried about it in the first place?
My brains, I realized, were slowly turning to mush. That’s when I remembered that status update from Facebook: I want my pre-internet brain back.
Thinking back to when I was a teenager, way back in the murky black and white steaming swamp of time lost, pre-computer, pre-internet, pre-VCR, with only two channels on the old Zenith black and white TV with the bunny ears on top, pre-telephone answering machine – you get the picture, pre-everything that could possible distract you, I had fashioned a bedroom studio in my parents’ unfinished basement.
After supper, I would disappear into the basement and spend the entire evening painting, playing my trumpet (the mournful strains of my rendition of Herb Alpert’s Lonely Bull wafting up through the floorboards)(my poor suffering parents finally bought me a mute), writing, reading and doing other things that teenage boys do, which I will leave to your imagination, gentle reader.
A friend might phone, or just as likely not phone. Someone might drop by for a visit. We used to do that in this culture, remember? Actually visit friends. Like, in person. Like, putting ourselves in the same room as our friends. Remember? Whatever happened to that?
By and large, I was capable of spending huge amounts of time with myself, happily engaged in these solitary artistic pursuits, happy as a pig in the proverbial shit.
So what the hell happened?
Computers happened. The internet happened. Cell phones happened. I seem to have bought in, every step of the way.
Now, I want out. At the least I want to feel I am in control. To make even a small change to my dependency feels as monumental a task as quitting smoking, which I have never been able to do. Clearly something has to happen. Maybe it’s as simple as deliberately leaving home, at least now and then, without my phone. Or taking a day away from Facebook. A full 24 hours! It seems daunting.
But clearly, something has to be done.
I want my pre-internet brain back.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s a funky remix of a song that seems to sum it all up . . . .