Sometimes I write my column by hand before typing it. I’m sitting at an inclined desk, the kind that rests on a table. Lid opens on a hinge with space below for stationery, pens, envelopes and stamps; closed, it provides a smooth, angled writing surface.
Sorting thought into words behaves much like my fountain pens, starting off dry and gradually flowing from hand to page. When I settle down, the hand and the pen can surprise me with an utterance, a choice of words or an analogy that I didn’t see coming. There may or may not be music playing.
This piece, however, I’m writing on a laptop, my eyes staring at the light from the screen, my fingers pounding on a keyboard instead of drawing letters with a pen. The phrases stop at the start, like a browser running slowly on startup, and just as they start, a pulse of light from the mobile phone. I check; Yes of course. What if it was something important?
It’s a meme posted by a guy I haven’t seen or talked to since 2001. “Depluralize a movie. I’m going to start. Jaw.” He and other people I’ve known are already posting all the good ones: “A Lion and Prejudice.” “The Postman Still Rings.” “A Candle.” Quickly, I add, “The Cook and No One Else” before returning my eyes to the laptop, having lost any thought I had begun to express.
When writing by hand, I’ve gotten into the habit of dropping the phone in the office and closing the lid on its flickers and prompts. The telephone is a constant tool in my work; at home, I’ve been trying lately to put it on a shelf when I’m home and my kids are awake.
Also, we recently banned almost all recreational use of computers in our household for the rest of the year, so it’s not fair to check Twitter around them.
I didn’t believe “screen rage” was a real thing until my kids were flying in Category 4 Cyclones when they were asked to turn off their devices for the night. It’s more disturbing to see toddler temper tantrums persist in a teenager as tall as me. Other families report similar explosions around electronics.
When we impose breaks on these things, our children soon begin to play and sing, to ask questions, to run and jump, to discover things; but the gray fog returns when we reintroduce the electronics and the kids burrow into the furniture, stare into the palantir, and soon walk away angrily.
It doesn’t look much better for adults ― as far as the species exists. At Sun-News, my coworker has a post-it on his computer screen reminding him, “Never read comments,” but sometimes you just can’t help it. What a Boschian hellscape of screaming sock puppets (this is how I visualize anonymous internet accounts), malformed minds, epistemic stubbornness, trickery and psychic abuse, this is “social media” . There are, on the other hand, videos of cats.
How much of this do we really need? Does it serve our health and happiness? How much does it hurt us?
Our house, in this case, contains a stash of books, musical instruments, toys and art supplies, as well as doors that open to relatively safe outdoor spaces, where children belong anyway. much of the day. My teenager seems delighted to run with me along a quiet road at sunset. Another child explores ghost stories, and another climbs on top of me to discuss elephant furniture, mushroom superhero powers, and football strategy.
Yet it is difficult to exercise control. Devices have a way of reverting. Besides the force of addiction, electronics are embedded in much of our interactions, and my son submits most of his school work online. I see his laptop, but he doesn’t seem to have any textbooks.
Let’s say a word about attention. The sight of young children with devices in their hands is smoke, and fire is busy parents, tired parents, distracted parents.
What is revealed when the devices are put away is that what our children want most of us is us. They also learn to be with themselves and with others. There is no app that restores a lost inner life; and if we can’t love ourselves, we can forget to cherish others or our world.
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached via email@example.com Where @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.
Or write to him at PO Box 84, Deming, NM 88031.
desert sage now works monthly. Here are some recent columns:
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