A heart without a screen

Yesterday, I treated myself to a day without looking at a computer screen.  Instead, I ran errands, napped with a dog, and reread Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin.  Over a decade ago, I had shortlisted it among my favorite books, but I had not read it since then.

This book of a civilization of 50,000 years in a future Northern California is not exactly a novel.  Instead, it is an anthropology of the future.  It is, as others have said, a Silmarillion for the Whole Earth Catalog crowd.  There is no end to the worldbuilding of it.  It is not a book for everyone.  But it teaches me now as it taught me then, and as I promptly forgot – we are supposed to be in more time than this.  

Those who want fighting, let them smoke tobacco.
Those who want excitement, let them drink brandy.
Those who want withdrawal, let them smoke cannabis.
Those who want good talking, let them drink wine.
I don’t want any of those things at this moment.
Early in the morning I breathe air and drink water,
because what I want is clarity and silence
and one thin line of words on the white paper
drawn around my thoughts in clarity and silence.

(p. 258)

In Always Coming Home, a kind of internet exists – a computer network of data – but it is little used and not much desired, except by specialists.  There are, apparently, no lolcats, no reason to spend more time on the computer network than is needed.  Most people spend their lives working with their hands and with each other.  As with most utopian SF, this policy is both wiser than we currently arrange matters, and totally unrealistic.

The internet – the whole world of screens we have built for and about each other – is talking.  It is nothing but talking.  Although some of it discourses on very grand subjects, there is no getting past the fact that in the end there is nothing for us but nattering here.  For those of us who are introverts by nature, the screen is exhausting to the mind. 

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