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Through our window
When a choice of teeny Gorilla Glass or a picture window makes a difference. Thinking about which reality you want to live in. A repost from March 2022.
Read time: about 6 minutes. This week: A repost of a personal reflection from over a year ago. I got emails on this one from readers, and it seems good to offer it again to recent subscribers. I hope you’ll share it with others.
Next week: A piece is forming in my mind about authenticity and fakeness. In some fashion, it may extend some of the themes in today’s post.
The Boulangerie offers glimpses of what’s in a warm place rising or already in the bakery oven. This past week, Cadillac Ranch! I only announce when something happens in the Boulangerie with my Mastodon loudspeaker: @email@example.com.
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We sleep on the second floor in a large room, bookshelves on one end and, on the other, a large window that covers most of the wall. It faces southeast and captures early morning sun. Through the branches, especially in the fall and winter, a vista unfolds of a field. I can see this easily with a glance from my bed.
My story is about that large window and smaller “Gorilla Glass” replacements. They have contended. Both shape my understanding of the world.
I’ve made decisions because of the view through our window, including a rather hard career decision. I was in the middle of an elaborate courtship (or at least it felt elaborate to me) with a Silicon Valley enterprise and had gone through the first round of telephone interviews. It was mid-November, a Sunday morning, when I sat next to my wife in bed, both of us sipping our coffee and looking through our window, our usual way of starting the day. The view was clear, since trees had shed leaves, and morning frost was beginning to recede to the wood’s edges around the field beyond. Stark it was, a mixture of winter greys and white.
I had been obsessing about an email that proposed next steps in the interview process. I got it Friday and thought that the weekend was good time to ponder. The implications of a job switch would have been formidable: a separate home (or rather a very modest perch) on the West Coast, far from our Carolina homestead. A commitment to air travel that was unappealing to me. But the projects and the rewards were great. “You would be obsessed,” my wife correctly observed, “and you’d work all the time.” She feared the job would empty me out, leaving a husk. But the rewards were great.
I know exactly when I made the decision. I was looking through our window, watching the frost recede, and I knew I could not leave this. It was as if I did not decide; the cold and quiet view through our window decided instead. The scene spoke.
I got up. I wrote my email of thanks but no thanks.
That was well over a decade ago, and it is clear today that the choice made while looking through our window was exactly the right one, foregone riches notwithstanding. The second floor bedroom has remained, though over the years it has undergone a few rearrangements. But the large window assumes a less commanding place in our lives. Smaller, tougher crystalline windows on hand-held rectangles have captured our attention. My wife and I have named them “fondle-slabs” which isn’t exactly a glamorous name, but does reflect our finger-action and the stare that she and I direct to the little things.
I don’t ignore the view through our window, but I do know that I look across the room only to start my day with coffee, the dog and I having completed our walk in the early morning dark and I have remounted the bed, coffee in one hand, fondle-slab in the other. I sometimes make myself look through our window in the dark to see the world begin to light up as I sip my coffee.
But then, with a push of the button, I slip into the web of news and messages. I’m looking through my window. My own window. My bride has hers, too. Our attentions have shifted and with that our worlds have changed as well. Of course, the influence of tiny devices on society has been pretty well picked over, and not always in a positive way. Nicholas Carr says that with the tiny devices always to hand “it becomes much much harder to practice the attentive types of thinking — contemplative thought, reflective thought, introspective thought. That means it’s very hard to translate information into rich, highly connected memories that ultimately make us smart and intelligent.” Elsewhere, Carr observed that “we don’t see trees. We see twigs and leaves” referring to the Internet’s penchant to splinter knowledge and understanding.
But when I look into my fondle-slab, I am connected to information about a very broad world, though, sure, it is a world with a very indistinct location, where voices from India are as present as the voice of the mayor of Durham, North Carolina. Where the season can be opposite the one through our window, with farmers sowing rather than harvesting. In the world beneath the Gorilla Glass, connections of memory that Carr claims “make us smart and intelligent” no longer use location and place as a means to provide continuity or associations.
What happens when our attentions no longer share a place, when our focus lacks a common background? What happens to a home when its plot of land recedes — in attention, at least — and is turned inside out by devices that make themselves into an everywhere or a nowhere?
It is far easier to pose the questions rather than find the answers, but here’s what I suspect has unfolded. I think that I’ve placed more emphasis on matters I do not — and cannot — control. That amounts to a distraction from matters large and small that I can influence and shape with consequential action. That is, the action that is most present in walking in a world of things, the world that I see through our window. What we attend to matters in that way. Our attention is the gateway to movement and to decision, and in some odd way, the breadth and richness of the world beneath the Gorilla Glass glistens only (and maybe forever) in the distance. The world we see through our window admits the touch of a hand and, most importantly, rearrangement, remaking, recovery, retooling.
The view through our window provides a living context seamlessly connected with where I live my life. Like a tapestry, the landscape continuously unfolds below my feet as I walk or as I roll along in my car. I smell it. I feel its heat and its cold. It has no “on” switch, but my actions can try to turn it off. It is, in fact, always on and always expecting — no, requiring — some interaction.
Reflecting on the aftermath of the 2020 election, a friend of mine noted how the “real world we live in had become abstracted” and remade in our devices. Perhaps because we have not yet figured out our devices, that transformation has complicated real human relations and has perversely made many of us “despicable” — dehumanized — one to another. The healing that could follow the tumult of a vicious struggle becomes complicated because we have become abstracts, “internetted” social media caricatures of the human beings we are in real life.
Tags: social media, smartphone, nature, life, virtual reality, rural living, trees
Links, cited and not, some just interesting
If you don’t do social media regularly, your identity “fades”: Austin, Drew. “#162: Minimum Viable Self.” Substack newsletter. Kneeling Bus (blog), June 18, 2021. https://kneelingbus.substack.com/p/162-minimum-viable-self
Two entries from a five-part series on the “Metaverse”: Carr, Nicholas. “Meanings of the Metaverse: Reality Surfing.” Rough Type (blog), January 17, 2022. https://www.roughtype.com/?p=9121 and Carr, Nicholas. “The People of the Metaverse.” Rough Type (blog), February 3, 2022. https://www.roughtype.com/?p=9139.
A round-up of what you might already feel: DiGiulio, Sarah. “Your Smartphone Is Changing the Human Race in Surprising Ways.” NBC News, April 12, 2017. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/your-smartphone-may-actually-be-changing-human-race-n743866.
And Harvard Health has a 20-minute solution that wears off, of course: Harvard Health. “A 20-Minute Nature Break Relieves Stress,” July 1, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/a-20-minute-nature-break-relieves-stress.