Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the present moment

I read an NPR article today (okay, it was two minutes ago) by Eyder Peralta which questioned whether the "now-ness" of the Internet has changed our sense of time and altered how we see the world. From the article:
I'm not sure when, but in some ways, Americans have transitioned from a society that worked toward a future, to a society that lives for the now. We watch movies on-demand; we send instant messages across the world; we get news as it happens and there's no use waiting for the six-o'clock newscast or the next day's paper.
So in the past we read books, mailed letters, and got our news after the fact, from papers and peers. Today, we have Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds, which allow us to build an ongoing conversation around events and ideas as they're happening. On the one hand, this is good. We're living in the present moment! We're engaged with what's happening right now! And yet, the author asks, what exactly are we sacrificing for this overwhelming sense of immediacy?

Perhaps, this technological evolution of the web is just a mirror of our society. Perhaps it signals a deeper plunge into the immediate.

If so, I ask, in a world of now, how do we get the future right?

First of all, I must be upfront about the fact that any time I hear an argument that begins, "well, in my day..." or "back when I was a kid, things were so much better because..." I can't help by roll my eyes. I'm a big fan of change and I believe that in the majority of cases, change is good. I think we've been steadily improving on the past for about as long as the present has been around. That said, Eyder Peralta makes a good point.

I spend a lot of time on the Internet. It's a big part of my job, yes, but it's also a big part of my life. Sometimes I think about how often I report back to the Internet - I update my status on Facebook and Twitter, I track my runs on Dailymile, I let people know what page of The Virgin Suicides I'm on with Goodreads. So much of my life is spent clicking the refresh button. And yes, I get something out of these websites. I get a sense of community, connections to people I might otherwise lose track of or never know at all. But, as
Eyder Peralta asks, what am I giving up? Spreading myself thin with a thousand surface distractions every hour - well, how can that not affect my ability to have deeper ideas, more developed epiphanies, and projects that go beyond the present moment, projects that I've nurtured past the now? Naturally, I'm thinking about writing, and how it is possibly the least instantly gratifying process on the planet. How can I become a better, more dedicated and ambitious writer, when I'm squandering all my words on tweets and IMs and comment fields?

I don't have a sassy ending for this post, but I suppose that's fitting. Excuse me while I think long and hard about this conundrum. And post the article on Facebook.


  1. You're the best. I meant that!

  2. I am currently reading The Virgin Suicides as well. It's interesting.

    I read the article you posted on FB, and I would not have had you not posted it. So, I'm not sure what I am saying. Can it be both good and bad? Can we learn to keep the balance between real and virtual? Also, it makes me want to write you and other close friends a weekly letter? You know, just to keep it real ;)

  3. Book club!

    I do miss getting letters in the mail. I don't even really get emails anymore - I just check people's facebooks. I think a balance is certainly possible, but I think I've been unbalanced for a bit. I need to reacquaint myself with moderation!

  4. I've recently tried taking 30+min breaks during my work day and taking a walk through a secluded/peaceful place (the arboretum or the LaNana Creek Trail have worked great so far). I take my Moleskin journal and my favorite pen, and as I'm walking, I have great ideas for stories. I write them down, and so far I feel like it has truly helped me detach from the stream -- not to mention write things like that Graft story.

  5. Hm. A mid-afternoon walk is not a bad idea. Speaking of the Graft story, when is the second installment due? Do you need to take more walks or something?

  6. I often feel that I am spread too thin on the internet. Between facebook and twitter (or rather, my TWO twitter accounts), how much more can I narrate my life? Am I so busy talking the talk that I am missing the great opportunity to walk the walk? The internet is a great community, but I do often feel overwhelmed and exhausted by it. I think, as with all things, the key is a balance between the NOW! of the internet and what Deepak Chopra refers to as "the eternal moment of now."