Response to “Hours and Days”

by on February 20, 2013

Responses Takes
Illustration by Sally ScopaIllustration by Sally Scopa

Where does the mind go when we take a walk? Does it extend to touch the land, or play off corners of a new room? Do my thoughts intersect in the space between me and a car moving toward us, or mingle aroundtheedgesof a magazine that wrinkles in my bag?

For Pat, physical space, movement, and perception are closely connected indeed. A distinct form of clarity appears as he walks with a roommate or as he drives through the night. When his mind has the chance to sink “into the soft, silent land around it,” experience becomes uniquely satisfying.

In the woods of Colorado, a hike and a lunch feel so coherent that he writes of it as a self-realizing narrative when they “called it the end.” The stories of the baseball diamond are mapped, too. He finds the sport captivating because each windup creates an expanse of potential arcs across the field. The imagination collapses withthe pitch into one screaming grounder toward third and the sprint of a runner on his path. Even in the virtual world of Zelda, polygonal as it might be, Pat has a genuine excitement about wandering in that immersive environment. But if satisfaction is linked with a sense of movement through space, what happens to our thoughts (and ourselves) when the spaces of our lives become disordered and fragmented?

Nowhere is space more fragmented than in the virtual world. Wandering the Internet is the opposite of crossing a landscape. It is a miraculous trick that hyperlinks can take our eyes directly from A to B, while webpages don’t fade in the sun or show wear with age: the sharp edges are built just for us each time. Even thinking of servers offers no way out: they remember us, but we have no way of leaving a mark, no way to place this moment. What good is the thought of a physicalbuilding in Oregon humming with hard drives?

This liquid crystal screen pulls videos from computers in Egypt faster than I can stand up from my desk, so the experience is one of an anti-space still confused with a weak substitute, still bound to our concept of the tangible world only by bad metaphors and savvy software designers. This Internet defies the rules of the spaces we live through, creating an unreality which permeates so completely that only reception dead zones hint at the vibrating towers that obey our environment. It’s not that digital media persists through time or spreads over every place—they exist outside those rules altogether. Its information is everywhere, but to us and our minds it might equally be nowhere.

This difference, this disconnect, between “cyberspace” and the continuous landscape where we see and think and express ourselves is deeply unsettling.When Pat speaks of the day’s shrinking time, I wonder if maybe that’s approaching the question from the wrong direction. He implies that this anxiety comes from a sense that there is only time to know a part of a thing, and indeed, the web thrives on the insatiable desire to see and know more. Yet maybe it’s not that there is less time for our loves, our friends, and ourselves; maybe as we spend more time working through digital screens, the knowing becomes different, and loosens a deeper anchor.

This distinction feels so fundamental that surely the question was addressed when pixels and bursts of data were new. But as we go further, have we really come to terms with it? For Pat, I think, the road-trip illuminated that linear timeline across the landscape—that arc which all our stories make: a structure not only to our relations, but to our own sense of self.