Lately I've been feeling very discontented with my online life. I read things like this article and I think, that's me. Using the internet to filter down the world to only those parts that I'm comfortable with. Or this one, reminding me of how extremely ADD the internet makes me. I can't read through a whole article before switching to some other tab for no reason at all except that I'm already bored with the tab I'm in. Endless hours get eaten up in front of the computer, and there's always more to read. I always have a dozen tabs open that I really want to get to, and those tabs draw me back to the computer to "finish up" even though I have other things I should be doing. By the time I get up, I feel listless, crammed with information I've had no opportunity to reflect on, guilty for the time I've wasted, sluggish from having spent so much time on my butt. Why do I do this to myself? I'm not even enjoying it!
Since I got married, I haven't fasted on the fast days of the Church. Because I've been pregnant or nursing the whole time, I'm exempt -- which is a huge relief to me, because I am a terrible faster. Instead, I fast from the internet. I am more addicted to the internet than I am to food, and I figure it will be a huge sacrifice.
But the thing is, it never is. It's not a sacrifice at all. It's a relief. The computer is shut and I'm free to find other things to do. I clean the house. I play with my kids (some ... I am still a big believer in kids entertaining themselves). I read library books and start craft projects. And it's great. My days pass slower, but more enjoyably. When I rest, I actually feel like I'm resting. And almost any other thing I do, I end up getting tired of or bored with and feeling like moving on to the next thing. It drives me on to do housework or knock out my to-do list. The internet dulls that feeling of "finished" -- I am never finished.
I ended up stretching my fast a little further and staying mostly off the computer throughout the weekend. It was great. Why get back on at all? Well, I did miss my friends, whom I can't see often in real life. And I am doing book research. But mainly because it felt like I can't actually be a human being in the 21st century and not be online a lot. People expect it. Still, I'd like to be more intentional about it from now on -- maybe even figure out a schedule for computer time. Because I have to admit that my relationship with the internet is way unhealthy.
Anyway while I was offline, I was thinking about the past. I've been studying archeology a lot lately, like I've said, and it's so neat to see all the things people can do. Any woman of the middle ages could do all of the following: card wool, spin yarn, weave, brew, light a fire, bake, tend a garden, make cheese, pickle vegetables, make butter, and so many more things. Sure, I can do things she couldn't: read, type, drive a car. But it's so rare for us nowadays to do the entire thing of any job. Maybe we can make our own clothes, but we buy the cloth. We cook food, but we buy the ingredients.
I just have this craving to do the whole thing myself. I like to grow food and pick it and cook it and eat it. I dream of carding wool and spinning it and weaving it and sewing it.
John tried to get me to explain this desire of mine, because he doesn't get it at all. Part of it is simply that I enjoy creating. I love to create; it doesn't even matter what. Over the years I've created dolls, puppets, paintings, novels, woven things, knit things, crochet things, food, gardens, quill pens, alcoholic beverages, photographs, poems, treehouses, and clothing. It's satisfying in a way that nothing else is. And I don't like to make a fancy craft out of it, buying a ton of supplies so I can do it right. I like to improvise materials and use what I have on hand.
Part of it is a desire for independence. I have a moral notion, something no one ever taught me, but which I guess I picked up from my upbringing, that it is more virtuous to make something than to buy it. That it's better to be a producer than a consumer. I loathe shopping. I detest it. Since I usually shop at Aldi, I find the regular grocery store a shock. So much stuff! So much worthless junk! So many things you could easily make yourself!
Meanwhile, I'm sure there are people who walk the aisles thinking, "Wow. Wonders of civilization." I saw a video awhile back that told the story of a pencil. How many different people's work goes into making a pencil, and what a wonderful thing it is that capitalism brings all these things together to make a pencil that no single one of us could make on our own. It just left me thinking, "You think an individual can't make an implement to write with? Watch me." I wanted to give up pencils for good and fling it in the teeth of Dixon Ticonderoga. But that would be kind of a useless gesture seeing as I use a computer that has a heck of a lot more people's work going into it, and I can't make my own computer components.
What the heck is wrong with me? Is it the Scotch descent? Ideals learned from Depression-era grandparents? The constant fear of poverty? Was I just born into the wrong era, that I can't appreciate a vast, complex economy and unlimited variety of consumer goods?
All I know is that I recently saw a documentary on replicating life in the Iron Age and I thought, "Oh, man. That would be awesome." I would love to live in a house I had built myself, milking cows, grinding grain in a saddle quern, and spinning wool from my sheep. Maybe I'm idealizing. Maybe I'm really too lazy and couldn't do all the work. But I'm ashamed of that lazy side of myself; I'd rather do the work.
The one sticking point, though, is the loneliness. People then lived in community. Now we're so isolated, without our technological devices, it would be hard to keep in touch. My next-door neighbor told me today that no one sits on their front porches anymore. They all stay inside where the air-conditioning is. He and I get along fine, by the way. At first I admit I stereotyped him, because he, like most people around here, is something of a redneck. But maybe that's the internet talking, my tendency to sort people by stereotype and then choose to associate only with those who are like me. Maybe it opens my mind more to talk to my neighbor over the fence than it does to read a blog of another crunchy hippie Catholic mother on the other side of the world. I just need to find ways to create community in the places where I am.
As time goes on, I find myself becoming more and more of a Luddite. When I started using the internet, I also started making medieval clothing. Now that we have internet on our phones, I'm dreaming of a drop spindle.
Ah well, I never was any good at staying in style anyway.
When it comes down to it, it's not about abandoning the modern world. It's about bringing those ancient things that I love into the present so that I can build a life that's true to who I am, that allows me to live in the modern world without letting it change me more than I'm comfortable with.