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12/23/2005 Archived Entry: "My year of silence -- First report"

WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT, the first report I must give from my year of silence (which theoretically began on Wednesday) is that contemplative silence is hard work and I have a lot of habits to break before I can get out of my own way.

I spent my first theoretically quiet afternoon frantically mailing out e-cards for Christmas and Hannukah -- only later to receive the frustrating message that many of them were undeliverable for who-knows-what reason. So if you think you should have gotten a holiday greeting from me and you didn't ... well, know you're in my heart. Unfortunately, I now don't have enough Net time to resend the poor stray cards.

Then I spent much of yesterday fretting over a book order gone bad (for which the purchaser and I owe "thanks" to both the post office, which lost the package, and the Internet, which lost all 12 messages I sent to the poor buyer, leaving her thinking very bad thoughts about me for several weeks while I was wondering what was wrong with her for not answering any of my increasingly frantic emails).

All this serves as a reminder of why I want to spend more time in the real world and less tangled in the Net. But it also serves as a reminder to me that I -- and my willingness to be distracted -- am my own biggest problem.

On November 23, a few days after announcing my intention to seek a more focused path, I heard an NPR commentary by Paul Ford called "Distracted No More: Going Back to Basics."

Ford describes how he has attempted to foil his own Internet-related distractability by, among other things, doing his writing on a simple child's keyboard device, not connected to the ether. (Most of us writers will confess that the moment we get stuck or bored, the temptation to quit banging our brains and instead glide along on the Net-surf can be overwhelming. I sometimes pull the ethernet card out of my computer and hide it from myself when I'm facing a deadline.)

I don't agree with every word of Ford's commentary, but I understand his predicament. And he made one point that I thought was particularly well taken. (I'm going to go from memory here, since I refuse to give in to the distraction of listening to the commentary again.) He said there are distractions and there are distractions. And that the typical Internet kind of distraction tends to make us more informed but less intelligent.

That is, we Google and we follow links and we chase down the ever-changing stories on five different daily news sources. But we're so busy sucking up facts and opinions that we have little time or inclination left to reflect on them -- to decide what truly matters and what we should discard. On the other hand, when we sit quietly and follow "links" in our own imaginations, those links -- which are also a form of distraction -- often have intuitive connections that lead us to cogent conclusions about things that truly matter to us.

I discover that even when I'm physically disconnected from the Net, I'm still worrying about what's ON the Net. "Ohmigod, I must answer B's email the moment I get online again. What if X-item comes up on eBay and I miss it? Oh! No! More horrible news from the surveillance state! I! Must! Blog! It!"

So the first task for me is to curb not only the actual distractions of the Net, but my own rather rattle-clatter mental habits that have, in part, been formed by the 12 years I've been on the Net. And I must also find a way to pursue my own path without being overwhelmed by guilt for "abandoning" or not answering friends and others to whom I already owe a great deal.

I see that I have to do a lot of work on me.

Posted by Claire @ 01:09 PM CST

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