Posts Tagged ‘Slow Life’

You’ve Got (Too Much) Mail, And an Invitation to a Letter

March 4, 2011

Letter paper, with ink pen and ink bottleWhen’s the last time you took a day off from e-mail?  How about an evening, or even an hour?  How many times a day do you click on the In box?  Do you feel the urge even now?

If you’re an average worker bee, you get upwards of 200 e-mails a day, spending 40% of your work day opening, answering, forwarding, and deleting; and your work day gets longer and longer.  The most diligent worker bees head for their In Box well before breakfast and take their iPhones to bed.

Is this good for us?   Is it fun?

Or as John Freeman asks in The Tyranny of E-Mail, “How many of our most joyful memories have been created in front of a screen?”

That’s a question to give one pause.  And The Tyranny of E-Mail suggests we need one.  A great big “wait a minute!” while we ask, “E-mail, what is it good for?”

Well, it’s good for a lot of things, as we all know.  But as its speed keeps increasing, as our In boxes overflow, as our attention shatters into fragments, as our work day eats up more of our waking hours, as this rolling electronic to-do list keeps the horizon of completion ever on the move, we find ourselves in a “strobe-lit techno-rave communication environment” where the party never, ever ends.  And it’s least fun party on the planet, because all the ravers are sitting alone in front of their techno-screens.   No dancing allowed.

This is John Freeman’s argument, or part of it, and as soon as I read it, I knew he was my kind of thinker.  He’s no technophobe, no luddite.  He simply asks whether “there is a way we can slow (e-mail) down, so we can make the best of it while retaining a foot-hold in the real-world commons.”

You know, the real-world, physical commons of face-to-face interaction: the theater, post office, town square, meeting hall, bowling alley, voting precinct, bank, bookstore, shopping street, park.  Or the café, where we sit in conversation with a colleague or a friend,  and the social cues of expression, inflection and bodily presence help us interpret meaning and tone.  Where the sheer physical presence of our friend brings us sensory pleasure.

All these places and interactions give us what e-mail does not: the physical presence of others in the commons of civic and social life, a place filled with reminders of “the importance of sharing resources, of working together, of balancing our own needs with those of others.”

Being tied all day (and night) to e-mail also removes us from that commons of the natural world, the one we share with other species, and whose resources we depend on for life.  The one our bodies belong to, with their physical limits and hunger for the sensual pleasures of the world. (more…)

Thoreau Just Last Wednesday

September 25, 2010

So in the great reality show that is contemporary life, comes this concatenation of events:

I.

I’m on the bus eavesreading over someone’s shoulder.  “Justin Bieber Caught Canoodling in L.A.”  I think, “Canoodling”?  I think, “That’s a headline??”  I think, “Poor kid, forced to live in public.”

II.

I am just getting started pondering the decline and fall of empires, of newspapers, of public discourse, of privacy, when the bus whooshes to a stop and on hops a teenage girl with her pleasant-seeming friend.  The first girl is laughing and talking at top volume, though not with her pleasant-seeming friend, but with an imaginary one.  Or so it seems.   For the next fifteen minutes, I listen, for example, to the following:

Real Girl: So did he call her a bitch?  Or did you?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  *************  *****  **********

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ******   *************  ***  ******************  **

Real Girl: Who started it?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***   ****    **  *****   **   ******

Real Girl: Yeah, I miss my iPod, too.

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  ***** ** * ******    **

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***

Real Girl: OMG !  !  !  (*Raucous laughing*)

Literally, she said the letters,­ “O.  M.  G.”

While I’m overhearing and thinking about declines and falls, canoodling teen idols with weird hair (and why or why not I should know this), living or not living in public, coerced and voluntary eavesdropping, teenagers—both widely known and not—in the age of reality media, feeling glad that I feel my next blog post coming on—which launches a whole new cascade of thinking about writing and meaning and why or why not there is any irony here—the girl’s real friend gazes out the window, watching the city roll by, utterly alone.

III.

I hop off the bus at the university where I teach, glad for the hush of fog at 8 a.m., and stroll across the damp grass to drop some books off at the library.  I stroll by the “New Arrivals” shelf and browse titles.  I spy a book by James Hawes, WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE.

IV.

I sit in my office, check and answer email, check for new status updates, check on tweets, click some links, ponder culpability for declines and falls and participation in same.  Ponder futility.  Ponder monkey-mind.  Ponder Thoreau.  (more…)

Knowing Our Place: Learning from a Cracker Childhood

July 13, 2010

I grew up mostly unrooted, so when I read Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, I wished that I, too, had grown up poor in a rural Georgia junkyard with parents so religiously fundamentalist they forbade my wearing pants, cutting my hair, or having friends over to play.  That’s just how good a storyteller she is.   But Ecology is even more than a great story, it’s an act of devotion to place.   Ray’s embrace gathers in the human tales of family and Cracker culture, but also those of the longleaf pine forests that once blanketed the South.    For those of us who lack her deep connection to culture and land, this book is an occasion for longing.

Ray’s rootedness fascinates me, as rootedness always does when I meet people who have it.  Outside the South, they’re not that easy to find.   Most of us in the U.S. are mobility incarnate, variously attached—or not—to a series of addresses, but without deep knowledge of the places we live.   Even if we feel fiercely devoted to our city or neighborhood, we rarely know the deep, ecological story of the land our houses stand on.  Ray’s book is about roots in that deepest sense.  Its chapters alternate between yarns about family and tales of the longleaf pine and its whole forest ecosystem: the complex interdependence of pine trees and wiregrass, indigo snake and gopher tortoise, scrub buckwheat and chaffseed and the Mississippi sandhill crane.  She tells that story, too, in a way that will hold you spellbound. (more…)

Slow News: Plum Crazy

July 7, 2010

Apologies for the blog delay, but we’re in the midst of a plum emergency.  My plum tree decided that it was time for every one of its 600 plums to be ripe.  NOW.  So the kitchen’s been a-boiling with vats of jam, butter, chutney, and sauce.  For days, I’ve been slicing, simmering and spicing up plums, filling hot glass jars and screwing on lids; sliding the filled jars into the boiling water bath, and whew!   I’ve been a one-woman assembly line.  The best part is when, after ten minutes in the boiling bath, the shining jars come out of the bath to cool.  That little ‘pock’ you hear when the lids seal tight is one of the loveliest sounds of summer.

What could make life more complete?  Well, it turns out this week that I’ve been translated into French on the writer Nathalie Chassériau’s blog “Vive le Lenteur”—Long Live Slowness.   To which I say, Amen.   I was shocked to hear that I’d missed International Slow Day on June 21 (I guess the news was too slow to reach me in time), but I do love the way I sound in French:  « Nous sommes tellement amoureux des technologies que nous ne prenons pas le temps de penser au meilleur moyen de nous en servir,  ni quelles peuvent en être les implications. Les livres sont devenus pour moi le lieu idéal où  je peux enfin lever le pied ».   I said most of that (in English) to a Newsweek reporter, but I don’t remember saying the part about “enfin lever le pied,” but now that I think of it, what a bonne idée!  Merci, Nathalie!

So, quick post this week, to catch you up on the plum situation.   In the coming weeks, look forward to more Slow News from North Oakland, including some slow book reviews, and your eagerly-awaited update on the neighborhood farm news.  In the meantime, I’m going to crack open a new slow book I just bought and lever le piedVive le Lenteur!  And le jam.