Where the Brain Goes, So Go I. Sort Of.

This is interesting -- unintentionally inspired by news that Google Reader is leaving the house. (Don't worry if you don't know that story. Not needed here.) (I've so far tried four alternatives to GR. Haven't settled on a replacement.)

Here's the part that intrigues me:

Today I realized that I'm devoting a relatively large amount of time to finding a replacement. I'm surprised that it's that important to me. Apparently it's a tool that's as valuable as my wordprocessing program, my Mac, my iPad. Big punch-in-nose jolt of awareness of how much both my life and the way I "spend" time have changed.

Then tonight, while hunting for something unrelated to my search for a GReader replacement, I discovered, by accident, that Wordpress offers a "reader." It's easy-peezy: Import your sites from Google Reader, and 60 seconds later: Voila! You're good to go with your new Wordpress Reader.

Its interface is mesmerizing. It delivers each item in the feed in "magazine" style: Large, colorful "cover images" introduce, as it were, each story on the Reader. (#1) It's lovely.

But - there's always a but - within 12 or so seconds I'd rejected it as a potential replacement: my brain needed five times longer than usual to process necessary information about each item in the feed ("necessary" meaning: gleaning just enough information to decide if I want to read the entire piece). Magazine-style presentation, visually rich and image-laden, is too rich to be useful for a Reader. (*2)

Dear reader, my brain has changed in response to my online interactions. It's learned to process "screen"-based information at hyper speed.

What's slightly scary is that I didn't realize just how efficient this part of my brain had become until I looked at the Wordpress Reader.

That discovery prompts this question: What would our net/web encounters be like if we moved at a more leisurely pace? What if we lived like elite, way-upper-class Romans did, lounging in togas, dipping into plates of grapes cultivating leisure in the way that they did? (*3)

Because whatever else we moderns, do, we don't cultivate leisure. Elite Romans treated leisure as an art form. We moderns, especially we Americans, cultivate labor and utility. They're our art forms.

But they're art forms that we enjoy at the expense of a more textured life. We've taught our brains to move at warp speed whenever we're "online." But are we doing enough to balance that warp speed with a slower, more leisurely place when we're "offline"?

Yes, that sounds embarrassingly cliched: we're all moving too fast. Slow Food, etc. etc..

But experiencing that warp speed in such a  . . . tactile, immediate way startled me. Made me a bit wary. (And made me glad that I long ago made a conscious decision about how I'm living my off-line life.) (*4)

Anyway. My two cents, or less, on Life In These Times. More to come on leisure, work, and so forth in the days to come (now that I'm out of Meat History Manuscript Prison).


#1. I would be remiss if I failed to mention what I was looking for when I ran across the WordPress Reader: A way to support Wordpress more directly than the fee I pay now. It's a valuable resource for me. I don't want to do volunteer work for them, but I'd give them some dough. Anyway, I found nothing. No "help us" buttons. I gather that means that they've moved beyond that stage, and I'm glad for them.

Also: It's interesting to note how accustomed I've become to practicing socialism. You know: Spreading my money around. Great thing about the net/web is that I can find interesting ways to do that. I love the ease with which I can give ten or twenty bucks to someone working on "work" that's outside the conventional strictures of "work," jobs, mortgages, etc. Yes, I pay taxes to various governments and I buy stuff from big companies, etc. Because in that sense, we're all socialists. (Socialism = traffic lights, people.)

*2: New project! New project! I gotta learn to "read" that specific kind of info much more quickly. Not there yet. Wonder how much faster a 27-year-old can read that kind of visual stuff? Seriously. I'll be sixty this year. My brain and reflexes have slowed from when I was in my twenties. New project! Learn to speed read magazine style!

*3: Oh. Wait. We iPad-owning, thought-pondering modern ARE like Romans....

*4. I've made a conscious (not always easy) decision to seclude myself from the world -- to retreat as much as possible -- when working.(*5) I don't go out, don't talk to people, spend an inordinate amount of time looking out the window and staring into space. Intentionally avoiding anything and anyone who moves faster than I want to move. So part of my brain is definitely operating on low gear. But apparently part of it is able to crank up to warp speed in an instant. (And yes. I'm fortunate. I know that. Odd thing is that I suspect many of us could afford far more leisure of this sort if we made decisions in that direction. And I say that as someone who lived a long while on other side of the fence I'm on now.)

*4: My husband used to fret that I was becoming agoraphobic because it's not unusual for me to stay in the house for days on end, except to walk or run (and I often do that late at night). It's not agoraphobia. I choose to avoid, as much as possible, unnecessary signal noise, if you know what I mean. That includes television, for example. I watch less now than ever, because it's so ... noisy (and I don't mean its decibel level).