Just how did I manage before the Internet Age?

I’m still disoriented from my technologically-enforced 48 hours without internet access.

Hard to believe how much I depend, day to day, on those clicks. Practical things, sure: my calendar reminds me of appointments and things-to-do I’d otherwise forget (not to mention the weather; you’d think I’d just look out the window, but the temperature in my apartment is not necessarily indicative of the temperature on the other side of the glass). My browser’s bookmarks bar is a kind of work schedule, a listing of projects and current MOOCs; I’m grateful this interrupt happened at a time between MOOCs, because if it’d happened when I was taking 8 at the same time, I would’ve been hysterical; a lost hour back then was a problem, two lost days would’ve been catastrophic.

But I could still prepare Pushcart posts for the coming week, and I could still work on my Euclid project, certainly, out of the Heath book. Right?

Um, it’s not that easy.

The Euclid project, I could understand; that’s 90% research, and while I do have a great paper source, the second of my primary sources is a website written for a more contemporary audience.

But I do a fair amount of research for my literary posts as well. Interviews with the authors; other reviews of the work in question; finding the work online or a reading on YouTube; collections containing the work, and publication dates. And then there’s the related material. I want to support facts with references – what was that article questioning the efficacy of Fair Trade practices? – and I want to get details right (nobody makes a turquoise cello, right? Oh wait, they do? Hmmm….). And of course, art. Images often play an important role as I formulate my thoughts. Sometimes I find an image that gives me a new insight entirely. That’s why these aren’t “reviews” – I don’t know how to do reviews – but explorations of where the work takes me.

And without the internet, the work doesn’t take me as far.

That’s an important realization. I start with the work, of course. But am I relying too much on other things? Right now I have an impulse to look up (because I can’t remember and I’m afraid I won’t get it exactly right; but I’m not going to check, so caveat emptor) just what school of literary criticism it is that insists, it’s not about the historical context or the author’s intent or the genre, it’s strictly about what’s on the page. How many times have I heard, “The story has to stand on its own,” that the origin or knowledge about the author or an event that inspired the story can’t enter into the evaluation of the work? Do I believe that?

Not for a second.

Reading is a cooperative act between author and reader. Non-fiction writers are of course advised to consider their audience: a technical crowd, progressives, Australians, teenagers? Fiction writers do the same thing: it’s called genre. You don’t send a science fiction story to a literary mag, or a minimalist piece riffing on Ginsberg (god I hope I spelled that right… e, u? … I’m not checking) to Highlights for Children (does that still exist? Do they even publish fiction? I’m not checking…). So if I want to incorporate the world into my reading, via the internet – if I want to find out what the author intended, or make the story more meaningful to me by better understanding the events it references – no one can tell me it’s cheating. It’s enhancement, sure (maybe, for example, I would’ve found a better example than Ginsberg or HfC). But I find out more about the work, about the world, and about myself, with everything I read. And if that isn’t the purpose of reading – what is?

All this started because of computer trouble. In two days, I learned about my dependence on modern technology; about a really nice cable guy who went above and beyond his assigned task of replacing my modem to help me discover my antiviral software was protecting me from the entire internet, putting into very concrete, practical terms the whole safety/freedom debate we’ve lived daily since 9/11. (and replaced my ethernet cable so it doesn’t jiggle loose every time I shift my computer); about one Symantec rep who crashed my machine by remote control (one of the scariest things I’ve ever done was giving control of my computer to a stranger… wow, I really do have trust issues: I’m insanely, absurdly trusting; but unless you’re a systems engineer, you’ve got to trust someone, sometime, and they’re already in my computer); about another Symantec rep who picked up the pieces (you have no idea what a mess I was…); and that I still, after all these years, have a very slow return to baseline (the sense of chaos remains long after the source of chaos has ended).

I process things – get them out of my head – by writing about them. So I’ve written about this, and now I’ve got to get back to work. Now that the world is, once again, just a click away.

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