Last evening, as I was preparing to reenter the world of blogging after a long holiday break, I decided to catch up on all the news I’d missed. I pulled out the Sunday print edition of the New York Times, where an article on the Joy of Quiet caught my eye. “About a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow, ” wrote Pico Iyer. This was a lot to handle in silence, so I turned on a television show, which made the rest of it (“The last time I was in the hermitage …” ) easier to digest.
Later that night, unsettled and unable to sleep after a week of interacting constantly with the physical, nondigital world, I reached for the comforting glow of my iPhone and clicked to the NYT app. There, high up on the most-e-mailed list, I found a blog post modestly titled “On Modern Time.” “Despite our increasing reliance on the mechanical measurement of time to structure our lives, many of us find some part of us resisting it,” I read in the semi-darkness. “We find it confining, too rigid perhaps to suit our natural states, and long for that looser structure of the medieval village (while retaining our modern comforts and medical advances, of course).” This made me long for my laptop, which I pulled up so as to more easily toggle between Facebook and Twitter while finishing the whole long-ass philosophical treatise on the nature of our relationship between clocks and our sharpened, anxious sense of mortality. The switch was a good move! It distracted me from the inevitable march of death, which the article kept cruelly throwing in my face.
This morning, while I was waiting on a subway platform, I paged through last week’s The New Yorker.(I didn’t get to it while I was at the hermitage last week.) A Talk of the Town on “countdowns” caught my eye — it seemed to have many of the same preoccupations as “On Modern Time.” “It’s an egg-timer world,” wrote Nick Paumgarten. “L.E.D displays on the subway platform tell you how many minutes until the next train pulls in.” There were eight whole minutes before my train came. I wished in vain that I were reading the thing on an iPad. I wanted to e-mail it to myself. Maybe there was a blog post here about how all the assigning editors in town seemed to be having trouble with modernity and/or realllly needed that vacation? But without an Internet connection, I forgot about the idea.
Until I was in line waiting for my lunch and pulled up the trusty most-e-mailed list on my phone, and something caught my eye. Had the Times changed the title of that Iyer piece on the “Joy of Quiet” to “A Time to Tune Out?” No, that was a whole ‘nother article on a very similar theme. This one, penned by Roger Cohen, on how connectivity can be “counterproductive by generating that contemporary state of anxiety in which focus on any activity is interrupted by the irresistible urge to check e-mail or texts; whose absence can in turn provoke the compounded anxiety of feeling unloved or unwanted just because the in-box is empty for a nanosecond.” The phone was a perfect choice for reading the article: That line reminded me that I hadn’t checked my e-mail in perhaps five to seven minutes. There were three messages. It was nice to be back at work.