- Franz Kafka
Less than one month ago, I finally picked up a copy of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, by Nicholas Carr - a book I'd heard much about, picked up every time I wandered into Elliott Bay, and tried to chase down at libraries and used bookstores all over - before making the plunge. I read it in two days, and it's been a serious wake up call.
Flipping open my laptop first thing in the morning, starting my days with internet, and punctuating most of my free moments with mindless web browsing is NOT good for the soul. Nor for the mind. I've justified it, telling myself that it's important to read the news and stay up on current events, that Facebook is a pleasantly mindless, relaxing pleasure at the end of an exhausting work day, that the internet is crucial to being connected in this modern world, that most careers are web-based anyway, that it's far more interactive than TV anyway and hey, at least I don't own a TV.
All those things are true - but it doesn't mean that constantly being connected is a positive thing in my life.
I should know, right? As a lifelong devotee to the great outdoors, I've written plenty of journal entries that attest to the mystical powers of disconnecting from the daily grind, of immersing oneself entirely in the natural world and just living in the moment.
Oct. 2006: Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
(Case in point: Journal entry, Oct. 22, 2006, after my first multi-day backpacking trip: As cliched as it is to say so, it was so refreshing to liberate myself from all the meaningless crap we fill our day-to-day lives with, the "free time" we create through microwaves and laptops and flush toilets, that we just, in turn, squander. Or, at least, I feel like I do. Even as I'm writing this entry, I'm multi-tasking a bit online...and I HATE that! I felt so very "in the moment" during our trip...I was just thinking about the woods, the rain, the people I was with, my body - "moments of being" as Virginia Woolf called them.) It's a powerful thing.
It's not just in nature. It happens, too, in deep, rich conversations with a close friend. Or on my morning walk to work, face turned to the sun's first rays over the building tops downtown. Or when I curl up in bed with my leather-bound journal and ink pen and let my thoughts flow. Or on a 15-minute break at work, the din of screaming kids and bad 80s music on XM radio in the background, as I lose myself, however temporarily, in the refuge of a good book. Or in dreams, or while cooking, or while riding my bike, or while stepping over a fallen leaf, or while photographing the full moon, or in those groggy, post-alarm clock, first few moments of a new day.
The moon last night.
It's in those moments that thoughts are born. Not just normal processing thoughts, but the fodder that gives rise to our best insights - the very stuff that makes us most human. That insight, those connections, is what separates the human brain from the computer brain, and what can be the saving grace of our species, if people can only not lose the ability to harness that power...the power of insight, from which we also derive the powers of compassion, of imagination, of free will and ambition and creation.
Since The Shallows, I've been in a reading frenzy (as I've mentioned in brief passing already in this blog, I know.) It's crazy that two months ago, I was saying, "I'd love to read more, but I just don't have the time." Wrong. I just wasn't making the time. I've had the same 24 hours in my day as before, the same crazy 50-60 hour work weeks, the same obligations, everything; I've just made reading priority again. As Gandhi once said, "Action expresses priorities." After all, I didn't seem to have a problem reading when I was at Oberlin. One (delightful!) semester's worth of reading then:
Here's my reading list from the past month, most of which, yes, I've read cover to cover...a few are still in progress.
Compelling Nonfiction: Because we live in a fascinating world.
The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr
Bait and Switch, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Framing Innocence, by Lynn Powell
UTNE Reader: The Best of the Alternative Press, Sept/Oct 2010 Issue
Business Books: To help me help the companies I'm proud to work for.
Raising the Bar: The Story of Clif Bar Inc., by Gary Erickson
The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
The New Rules of Marketing and PR, by David Meerman Scott
The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss
Personal Development Books To give the gifts of knowledge and motivation to myself.
Rich Brother, Rich Sister: Two Different Paths to God, Money, and Happiness, by Robert Kiyosaki
Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World, by Lama Surya Das
My Reality Check Bounced!, by Jason Ryan Dorsey
The Myth of Stress, by Andrew Bernstein
You're Broke Because You Want to Be, by Larry Winget
Poor Dad Rich Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
Writing Books To give me a definitive shove toward my dream of being a published author.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
Nonfiction Book Proposals Anyone Can Write, by Elizabeth Lyon
Writer's Digest, October 2010 Issue
It seems to be that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube - and just so you don't think this is a generational thing, television and radio and magazines and even newspapers - are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way: Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by really mean? Am I happy? The problem...with Facebook and Twitter and The New York Times [is that] when you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now - you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people's thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people's reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice. - from "Solitude and Leadership" by William Deresiewicz, reprinted in UTNE
My favorite season is autumn; my favorite time of day is sunset. These are beautiful times - poignant and ever so fleeting. Isn't that true of many of life's loveliest moments? Everyday problems teach us to have a realistic attitude. They teach us that life is what life is: flawed, yet with tremendous potential for joy and fulfillment. Everything is workable. Until we fully learn this lesson, we are burned time and again by our unrealistic expectations. - from Awakening the Buddha Within
In an interview Writer's Digest did with Alice Walker, WD asked, "You've said that heaven should be a verb. What other words are underutilized?" Alice responded, "Bliss, ecstasy, joy. I live in Mexico part of the time, and my friend Yolanda always says that something is maravilloso. The word marvelous - especially when she says it about almost everything - reminds me that yes, indeed, that's the truth of it. Even with all of the things that are so awful, if you walk into your yard and stay there looking at almost anything for five minutes, you will be stunned by how marvelous life is and how incredibly lucky we are to have it.