Am I Still Here?

Photo: Jason Houston
Photo: Jason Houston

I HARBOR A DARK TWIN INSIDE. He’s a sun-starved, ropy bastard and he lives somewhere north of my heart. Every day he gets a little stronger. He’s a weed, he’s a creeper; he’s a series of thickening wires inside my skull.

Call him Z. I like weather; Z survives in spite of it. I like skiing; Z likes surfing the web. I like looking at trees; Z likes reading news feeds. I pull weeds in the garden; Z whispers in my ear about climate change, nuclear proliferation, ballooning health-insurance premiums.

Last week I flew into central Idaho on a ten-seat Britten-Norman Islander to spend five days in the wilderness. The plane’s engines throbbed exactly like a heartbeat. The sky was a depthless blue. Little white clouds were reefed on the horizon. Slowly, steadily, the airplane pulled us farther and farther from the gravel airstrip where we started, over the Tangled Mountains and the Tangled Lakes, big aquamarine lozenges gleaming in basins, flanked by huge, shattered faces of granite, a hundred miles from anything, and the ridgelines scrolling beneath my window were steadily lulling me into an intoxication, a daze — the splendor of all this! — and then Z tapped me (metaphorically) on the (metaphorical) shoulder.

Hey, he said. You haven’t checked your e-mail today.

“I THINK,” Thoreau wrote in his essay “Walking,” “that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Ha! Four hours! Clearly Thoreau did not own a BlackBerry.

Yesterday — and this is embarrassing — I checked my e-mail before leaving for work and after I got to work, and I checked it every now and then during the day at work, and, after bicycling home from work, a total distance of two miles, I checked my e-mail again. Just in case a few e-mails flew over my head through the rain while I pedaled home.

It’s disconcerting, it’s shameful. I tell myself: e-mail is work-related. E-mail is work-related and anything work-related is family-related, right? Because work makes money and money feeds the family. Money justifies all. Doesn’t it?

What my evil twin Z knows, and what I am loath to articulate, to even contemplate, is that checking e-mail or tinkering around on Facebook or reading snippets about Politician A on Blog B is not about making money at all but about asking the world a very urgent question.

That question is this: Am I still here?

Each time Z makes me guide the little mouse cursor to the Send & Receive button, he’s hollering into the impossibly complex snarl of underground and aboveground fiber linking every computer to every other: Am I part of this? Am I still here?

Yes, you’re here, Z, says Eddie Sloan re: Enlarge Your Penis 3+ Inches (100% GUARANTEED). You’re a part of it.

Yes, you’re here, Z, says Mark J. Silverman from legal, you’re here. Now forward me that memo.

Yes, you’re here, Z, says Matt Torrington from requisitions. You’re here all right, right here in last place in our football pool.

Since purchasing a little glassy machine called an iPhone, I’ve started checking e-mail in classrooms and in coffee shops. I’ve read news articles at stoplights, at my sons’ swimming lessons, at restaurants, and yes, once or twice in the bathroom while I peed.

Tap, tap, tap. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Paul Krugman, baseball scores, tide tables,, Immanuel Kant, blender-eats-camcorder, the tour schedule has changed, click here to watch a venomous snail paralyze a goldfish. Information, information, information — it’s all sustenance for that rawboned, insatiable, up-to-the-second twin of mine. I can stand in a river with my little sons beside me pitching pebbles into a deep, brilliant green pool with a flight of geese flapping along overhead and the autumn sun transforming the cottonwoods into an absolute frenzy of color — each leaf a shining, blessed fountain of light — and Z will start whispering in my ear about oil prices, presidential politics, the NFL.

What, Z wants to know, are we missing right now?

Addiction, neurologists say, changes the physical shape of our brains. Each time old Z finds another text message, another headline, another update, my brain injects a little dopamine into a reward pathway.

“You’ve got mail!” squeals the computer and — whoosh! — here comes a shot of dopamine.

I feel stronger, says Z.

Five minutes pass, the dopamine fades.

I’m weak, hisses Z. I’m hungry. I need to see a picture of Joe Biden.

WHAT IF, while you read the last few paragraphs, something in the world has changed? What if, during the past five minutes, someone, somewhere, sent you a text? Shouldn’t you go and check?

Being addicted to the wired universe might be perfectly healthy, of course, and it’s certainly defensible beneath the triumvirate of technology, curiosity, and progress. I’m the first to admit that there’s something enchanting and invigorating about my computer. There’s magic in reading a note from a friend in Rome and clicking through Halloween pictures from New Jersey and verifying John Steinbeck’s birth date in two clicks. The Internet is indeed its own strange, blessed fountain of light.

But sometimes I think Z’s demand to feel connected is tilting us both toward derangement, especially when we rise together at three a.m. and stare for a half hour into the black vacuum of the backyard and drink a glass of milk in the doorway of the kitchen before walking over to the computer and waking it up and finding out that while we sweated and twisted in the bedsheets, BeachReady Body had been preparing a totally unique and groundbreaking Body Transformation Formula for us, as well as for Leslie in New Mexico and Ben in Des Moines.

“We fall in love, we drink hard, we run to and fro upon the earth like frightened sheep,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. “And now you are to ask yourself if, when all is done, you would not have been better to sit by the fire at home, and be happy thinking.”
Do we like sitting by the fire?

We do.

Does it make us happy to think? It does. For a while. But pretty soon don’t we start worrying, now that we’ve stepped away from the world, that the world is slipping past without us? Don’t we wonder, when we come back, Am I still here?

Oh, the strange mix of revulsion and pleasure Z and I felt when we returned from five days under the sky in the middle of Idaho and watched the e-mail counter piling up: 21, 32, 58, 74 e-mails! Z has 74 e-mails! Z is indeed part of it all! Z was missed! Z exists!

We’re not the first to wonder about all this, Z and I, not the first to sense that maybe our shared life is rushing by too quickly, too feverishly. We’re not the first to feel as if we are scrambling to make our voices heard against an infinite and obliterating silence.

During the five days Z and I spent in the mountains, we saw lots of Shoshone pictographs, paintings made in caves mostly, and under overhangs: finger-painted elk and owls and dogs and triangle-bodied hunters with bows. Many of the pictographs in that area include hash marks, like rows of fence posts scratched downhill, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what these marks originally meant. Maybe they were offerings to the spirit world, or tallies of successful hunts, or records of vision quests. Maybe they were the consequence of someone sitting beside a fire and thinking happily away.

Whatever they once meant, they mean something else now. They mean memories are fragile, beliefs are tenuous, contexts are temporary. They mean nothing is stable — not mountains, not species, not cultures, not e-mail. The only quantities that ultimately persist are gravity and mystery. Uproar, as Keats said, is our only music.

What did I do today that will still retain its original meaning two hundred years from now? Might it be better, and more lasting, merely to walk home right now, and open the backyard gate, and lie down in the grass?

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME you were dazzled? When was the last time you lay down on a block of granite and fell asleep beneath the sky? Our few remaining pockets of unconnected, unwired time — walks, airplane trips, camp-outs, reading a novel on a beach — are dwindling fast. And yet: The Earth is 4.5 billion years old! There are at least 100 billion stars in our galaxy! What could be wrong with shutting down the computer some afternoon and sauntering for four hours through the woods and over the hills and fields?
“Dad!” calls my four-year-old son, Owen. He runs inside; his hands are cupped; his eyes are wide open.

“I found a grasshopper leg!” He flexes it back and forth; he wants to know if he can keep it.

I throw my phone onto the couch. I lift my son into my lap.

“When I am in the country,” wrote the old English critic William Hazlitt, “I wish to vegetate like the country.”

Z hates vegetating. Z wants LinkedIn, Twitter, Google. Z wants me to pick up my phone and finish reading my e-mail. Instead I take my sons on a walk. Clouds are blowing into the valley, big and dark and full of shoulders, and the light is low and golden. The sage, blooming in the gulch beneath our house, billows and shines.

We try to be quiet; we try to be diligent; we try to breathe.

Am I still here?

All I have to do is look into the eyes of my children, walking beside me through the evening.

Yes, Daddy, their eyes say.

Of course you’re here, Daddy. You’re right here.

Anthony Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho. He is the recipient of the Rome Prize, the Discover Prize, and four O. Henry Awards. He is the author of both fiction (The Shell Collector: Stories) and nonfiction(Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World). His most recent novels are About Grace (2004) and All the Light We Cannot See (2014) which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award. Doerr has also won such prestigious awards as the 2010 Story Prize and Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.


  1. Four thirty-nine AM . . . checking my e-mail. Busted like Mom at the kitchen table when I was a kid. The little portable tv staring at us during breakfast, Jack lalanne’s exercising and he is staring out at Mom and says, ”Hey you sitting there, drinking your coffee and smoking your first cigarette of the day! Put those smokes away and get up from that table!” Mom almost swallowed her Kent, micronite filter and all.
    I don’t blame e-mail really. I blame air-conditioning, party lines and vacuums, and especially cellphones; those old models with the giant batteries you had to lug around with you to use.
    And people actually did! I can never forget the guy in front of me in line at the bank, back in the day. As the teller is counting out out his stacks of hundreds, his monster phone rings. I’m shocked into paying attention as he screams into the phone for all to hear that ‘IF THAT PAPER ISN’T SIGNED BY NOON THE DEAL IS OFF !!! Suffice to say that I knew we were doomed as a species if we continued to subject each other to this kind of abuse in a public place. I wanted to scream . . . OFF . . . OFF WITH HIS HEAD!
    Email? So far, email is pretty tame. There is nothing better than ignoring it for a few days and then coming back to tons of it and deleting the hell out of it. Talk about empowerment. you gotta love that!
    Thanx for the article!

  2. Excellent essay. Speaks to the heart of the dilemma of technology and our growing pains in learning how to use it, but not overuse it.

  3. Nice writing Anthony. I just spent two hours in the snow and then read your essay online. Go figure!

  4. We’ve been conditioned since the introduction of telephones and then radios at the very beginning of the last century to rely on prosthetic electronic friendships. In the early days of radio and tv it was only the characters in serial dramas who became our prosthetic friends. Gradually the language of these shows became increasingly more explicit until “Friends’ became the best selling show of all time. The theme songs of all children’s shows emphasize that the main characters are the child’s friends ready to come and play with them.

    But the curve of electronic friendship has become more sinister with miniaturization. Our MP3 players, iPods, iPhones, Blackberries etc themselves have become substitute companions whose company we prefer to that of real relationships since they are much more predictable and controlled.

    Technology has conditioned us to live in an isolated, impersonal way and to accept substitutes for real face to face human interaction, so don’t be surprised that you’re checking your mail on the way into the wilderness. In our culture, it requires an effort of will to be without an electronic companion, just as it requires a similar effort not to overeat. We are completely unaccustomed to being totally alone and without gadgets. Our electronic devices are substitute friendships that amuse us at will.

  5. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail this year. One of the things I really enjoyed about hiking the trail was being able to share my adventure with people on a blog. I could post to my blog every few days from a town along the way. Some people would even Twitter from the trail while they were hiking, but that was too much technology for me.

    The ability to share the experience while I lived it meant that I could spend days in contemplative solitude and feel connected to the people I cared about back home. I was never alone because they were with me in spirit following me online along the way.

    The worst thing was email, however. Once I posted a question to an email list and sparked a lot of criticism. I was not online to defend myself and it got quite nasty. But in the grand scheme of things, it did not matter. The only thing that mattered was being out in nature watching the world pass beneath my feet.

  6. thank you. if it was not for my daily meditation practice, and the daily reminder: every day fresh mind, then the speed and expectation of technology would truly drive me mad. Turn it off, turn all of it off. Breathe. In 100 years, it will be something else and we will all be gone. Right here and right now, that is all we have.

  7. I wish that we were all blessed with fathers like you. You are right -and- Z’s world is also our world. Fathers, men really, are on the front line. As men find their balance, so will the world go. Thank you for lighting your trail.

  8. Please enter the word you see in the image below:

    Thanks, you are right. Go outside!!

  9. Powerful words and a strong message, but I feel you’re missing two pieces.

    First, how many friends of yours do not own a cellphone? I know a few.

    If you are addicted to checking email with your iPhone, it is perhaps because you chose to purchase the machine. Messages about penis enlargement and purchase requisitions are not going anywhere; the validation of your existence remains. So why do you check your mail five times every day?

    Second, what about your children? Generation Z is the term currently used for kids born over the past decade. The Z above your heart may as well be a moniker for your young child who is increasingly being raised in a society where cellphones are given to middle schoolers and computing word processor programs, not pieces of paper and pencils, are the norm.

    Might I suggest that Z is part of you as much as your children are part of you? The moment you turn one off, so goes the other. In this regard, the synergy between humanity and technology will grow more ubiquitous. The challenge is the balance.

  10. Your article certainly rang some bells in my head (I have a twin, too) and reminded me that, just last night, with bourbon in hand, my b-i-l asked the theoretical question: “If you had the power to get rid of computers, internet and cell phones right now, would you?” I didn’t know how I would answer, so I remained silent. Perhaps, I think, there is a way to compromise. My attempt at compromise is to share my nature journal with others by way of a blog – ( I only recently came up with this idea as a way to blend my world with my twin’s world, but I will say that the hours outside observing and drawing nature is much better for my psyche and my blood pressure than the hours in front of a computer screen. I also love nature photography. So, of course, my twin insisted that I put them online. Sigh… In the end, I know that I am a little addicted to the internet, but hopefully my awareness of the problem will keep it from getting out of hand. Here’s to hoping!
    Thanks for the article!

  11. Wow, what a terrific essay. Thank you. I know that you are checking obsessively, but I’m comment number twelve for this post. Twelve people so far. You ARE here!

    I’ll end up linking to this essay on my blog, and then I’ll check my own blog stats every time I log in just to see the page hits climb. How totally satisfying. (In fact, just by mentioning my blog here, I’m really hoping people might click on my name and come over and take a look . . . anything for validation.)

    On a more substantive note, I had the same experience as Piper this past summer, when I camped and blogged my way across the country with my two small children. The sense of connection was surprisingly rewarding. Plus (and this is where the personal ethics get kind of murky), in a way I thought of my sharing this adventure as a way to encourage other people in my life to put down their iPhones and laptops and head outside, too, preferably with children in tow.

    In four days I board a plane for South America to spend two weeks kayaking Chile’s Futaleufu River. I’m tell myself that I’m still wrestling with whether or not to take the camera and laptop and blog the trip, but to be honest I already know what I’m going to do. The nice thing about a trip like this one (or like Piper’s) is that I won’t be able to log in several times per day, that I’ll have some sort of sense of balance forced upon me.

    Okay, enough for now. But how thrilling that I can check the little box below to be notified of follow-up comments! I’ll be chacking on my iPhone.

  12. I’ve got an active online life myself, but it’s not email-related. Mostly interaction on discussion forums related to my lifestyle(climbing). And…my blog. And…my online t-shirt shop. And….and….

    I tried to Twitter, but it seemed so vacuous. How was I to know when I signed up for Facebook just the other day that it’s Twitter on steroids?

    oh….. my.

  13. “Little white clouds were reefed on the horizon.”
    ” . . . the autumn sun transforming the cottonwoods into an absolute frenzy of color—each leaf a shining, blessed fountain of light . . .”

    As long as you do not fail to write with such loveliness we will be rewarded. As long as we can still read and apprehend such loveliness the technologies will not have won . . . completely.

  14. I’m guilty on all accounts. So guilty of the “Am I still here?” illness that I was driven to visit Orion and discover this article on that impulse alone: to satisfy a soul craving that my email box, RSS feeds, and iPhone had failed to quench after many attempts. Weirdly nice to find an article to chastise me on my addiction.

    I love technology and news and embrace them whenever I can. The trick is to make sure the dog is wagging the Internet tail rather than the other way around.

    So I’m going to put this down and hug my kids right now. And then figure out what’s missing …

  15. Anthony, thanks for hooking in the neuroscience. Some recent addiction models I’ve seen suggest that anything taken out of its natural context has a higher potential for abusive use, tolerance, and – when unavailable – withdrawl: all marks of addiction. Take alcohol or refined sugar as examples – both distilled out of more complex nutritive carbohydrate sources, both turned into substances to which our bodies and brains dramatically react, both of which lead to a subsequent physiological “crash” as they are processed and exit the system.

    Consider these electronic media as a sort of distilled form of relationship – real face-to-face relationship that activates the orbitomedial prefrontal cortex in the brain, a primary center for attachment, bonding….and dopamine for the brain’s pleasure pathway. We’re getting just a sliver of what our brains truly crave, but that sliver activates the pleasure pathway enough that we are tempted over time to disdain “the real thing” for this electronic medium.

    It gets more complicated from here, but thanks for highlighting indirectly that addiction is both a human and an ecological problem, not a character disorder that happens to an obscure category of people called “addicts.”

  16. Building a life in the electronic cloud does both more for us and less than provide confirmation that We Are Here. Though a commented blog, an @twitter or an email serves as a kind of existential ping, it also lets us clasp at immortality. When we see our names and likenesses light up steady pixels on screens we feel a little more insulated from the fears of death or extinction that always bubble just beneath the surface. But still we know deep down that being everywhere really means being nowhere. Being alive means having a body, vulnerable, precious, fleeting, but most of all situated in the real and not in the virtual.

  17. Ha! This is a great essay–like a fun house of mirrors: I kept seeing myself reflected back to me and saying, “That can’t be me? Can it? I look so out of proportion, so wavy and contorted–and what are those wires coming out of my ears, that Qwerty keyboard attached to my fingers?” But– Holy crap, it was me! I didn’t want it to be, but I, too, was Z! Ugh. Thank you– I think. *smiles wryly* Beautiful essay that should be disseminated widely (um, via…the web?) Man, this is a conundrum, for sure. Your vision of it is so crystal clear. Now, thanks to you, I’m stepping out of the digital fun house, and going for a walk. OUTSIDE. Thank you. I needed that! (But wait: as I finish typing this comment, I see something beckoning me to check a box “Notify me of follow-up comments?” it asks. Do I want to know if someone reads my response to your essay? Do I check the box now? Do I? Do I? Do I? Arrrgggghhhhhh!)

  18. I spent a year living on a remote coral atoll in the Pacific. Once a week, my field director would deliver an abbreviated bulletin of the world’s news over a short-wave radio. By the time I’d heard of a news-worthy event, it was already three weeks old, buried in the backlogs of blogs and the archives of news sites. At first, this was worrisome. I compulsively read old issues of the Economist and even InTouch Weekly. Later, though, I realized that little of none of it affected me–tucked away on my little island–in the least. It felt useful to read about global ISSUES, such as fuel costs and agricultural problems, but what difference did it make to me, to my life, if the Patriots were knocked out of their playoff spot or the mayor of Chicago was caught in a scandal? The result (or lack thereof) was the same whether I learned about it the moment it occured or two months later… or even, dare I say it, whether I ever learned of it at all. This sounds wrong to say in a society that so values our being in-the-know and up-to-date, but how much of the news we read affects how we live our day to day lives? In certain professions, of course, it’s vital, but for many of us, it’s merely a distraction. Upon my return to the States, I stared blankly at friends when they brought up pop culture references from the year I was away. I felt overwhelmed that there was 20 pages of news to read every morning. But I felt rejuvenated knowing that, were I to use the paper to kindle the day’s fire and not read a word of it, nothing terrible would go awry. The world does not depend on my being knowledgeable about it. Yet that little gleam of truth doesn’t stop me from feeling out of sorts when I’m unable to check my email for a few days, or when I forget my cell phone charger at home…

  19. Ouch! That hit a tender spot with me. After having lusted for a long time for an iphone my hubby got me one for Christmas, I should make him take it back but I love it too much. I work part time and am home full time with my little ones. I love technology, I love that our macs and iphones share calendars and contacts. I love being able to browse my google reader with my morning coffee. And I love having a device with a short kiddy cartoon on it to entertain my kiddies while waiting in the er. And while I love technology there are some tech things I refuse to get on the bandwagon with: the wii, guitar hero (and other games), large flat screen tvs, or a tv in my downstairs living room.

  20. I am glad to have your read your article and taken time out to think about it and how I felt. And I am glad the internet brought your letter into my house in England-how else would we have ever met as strangers? And I think you already know that you exist and have the best reminders of that-your children –in the world.
    When you reflect on your life, you may sometimes wish that you had spent more time with them, but I doubt you will wish you’d had more e-mails. I sometimes think that all of this electronic communication is as illusory as it is transitory, just a dream. And that the most important thing is still the living, breathing heart- filled world. But it is a wonderful thing to be able to share these breaths with receptive strangers. Thank you.

  21. I so enjoyed your musings and see myself in them, as do the many who have commented. There is a line from the movie Shadowlands (about the life of C.S. Lewis) in which a student says to him, more or less, “We read to know we are not alone.” That sentence has become a part of my thinking and my wonderings since hearing it. I find it to be true and from what you have written, it seems you do also.

    What concerns me about our technological connections, however, is that for many of us they have replaced our personal and community connections to real flesh and blood people. Perhaps other readers will disagree. I find it much easier to go on-line and read another’s opinion or bit of news than I do to call and check up on a friend or to stop and chat with a neighbor. Reading your essay forcefully reminded me of where I want my priorities to lie and what I want to have matter in my life on a day in and day out basis. Thank you for writing it in such a way that easily and humorously broke through what defenses my “self” might have erected to keep the truth at bay. Good luck on your own journey of living and loving life.

  22. Even my cats like to roll around on the keyboard…
    Great article – I enjoyed reading it online after I checked my email for the 3rd time today.
    I enjoyed reading Four Seasons in Rome the traditional way – the book held lovingly in my hands. I enjoyed it so much that when I finished I googled you and went to your site.
    I have this under control.It’s everyone else who has a problem.

  23. I leave dozens of unopened emails in my inbox every day “to deal with later.”

  24. This is the same disingenuous navel-gazing that’s been going on for years. A similar tone could be set by mocking those who venerate the wilderness by pointing out that to do so requires dulling the soul to the brutish violence upon which the “beauty of nature” is built. The easier it is to delude ourselves to the reality of violence in nature the easier it is to separate ourselves from other realities all around us. So live your life, enjoy what you enjoy, and get over yourself. Life is too short for this kind of self-important pablum.

  25. Appreciating nature implies, by default, recognizing the violence and beauty that exist side-by-side there. To name the obvious would have been redundant on Doerr’s part. Doerr paints an accurate and poignant picture of a new cultural phenomenon, which the NY Times has called “Constant Partial Attention.” It doesn’t matter if one prefers nature or urban settings: constant partial attention dilutes one’s experiences, and that’s a dilution of life itself. (It’s like any addiction in that sense.) No matter now you slice it, that’s not healthy. As we, collectively, enter a new way of being, Doerr’s essay posits the need for some balance–not one OR the other. The author doesn’t mock anything/anyone other than himself. This is one reason “Am I Still Here” is so refreshing. Again, thanks to Anthony Doerr for writing it, and to Orion for publishing it.

  26. Thank you for this. It makes me feel less alone. I am indeed still here, and so are the rest of you out there. Now I’m going outside to see if the snow is still white and cold and slippery. How do you distinguish an e-mail flying through the air from a snowflake?

  27. The Robert Louis Stevenson quote was brilliant. Does anyone know which book/essay contains that quote?

  28. There is noting more natural than a blackberry and nothing more human than the erotic pleasure of a mouthful of the berries, rich staining juice running down one’s jaw.
    But blackberry is now the iconic name of a dreaded device? Brrrr.

    Reclaim the name and essence of blackberry! Blackberry eaters, all of you, unite against the machine!

  29. I believe the malaise is actually spreading. I’ve been going for medical checkups and tests recently and have been horrified to find that health practitioners are now scheduling patients at 10 minute intervals. I call these appointments “drive by shootings.” The concept of “care” is slowly disappearing from the word healthcare. More and more it seems like we serve The Machine, instead of machines serving us. Eric Brende has written a great book called “Better Off” on his experience not only leaving technology behind for 1-1/2 years, but spending that time considering technology and our relationship to it, i.e. how much we really need, and what does or doesn’t enhance our lives and relationships? He differentiates between a “tool” and a “machine” — a tool serving us (like a hammer or stove), and a machine needing to be served (like a computer that needs constant email sweepouts, upgrades, spy, spam, and virus monitoring, etc. I think it’s a worthwhile conceptual line, and worth digesting deeply, especially now, this winter, when millions of people are freezing, some to death, because the energy delivery “machine” in the Midwest and East is broken and will be for the next few weeks…

  30. We simply do not have the connection to innate wisdom to use the technology we have created. Too bad. Technology is not a bad or good thing but our lack of wisdom is tragic.

  31. did anyone notice they are responding to an online article, communicating with people they will never meet and who probably represent themselves completely falsely in their comments? are you really still there? oy! i think more important than not checking your email might be to find some real, living, friends…

  32. After working in a virtual reality lab for ten years with other very thoughtful people who looked at this technology bit by bit to see how it could be best used to amplify our expression and imagination, I would say the electronic medium is the reason I am here. My progress as a thinker and person who could create and communicate took off with electronic-mediated communications – and I mean worldwide, global village connection.

    What a head rush. Now that I have arrived as the full me, I don’t need the amplification any more. I know it so I only connect two hours a day. But, most people are so short of who they could be – the medium can introduce them to the candy store, but it is all about who you choose to read, communicate with, and what you think is possible.

    I know, kind of utopic, but I am only looking back at the ride to get here. The me can emerge through the facilitation of thought. I’ve lived it so I believe it isn’t real. But, I do so love the physical outdoors. Great to think more people would use the outdoors to connect while they escape at the same time. That could really help us out as a kinder, more thoughtful species.

  33. All these pieces came to me as a nice collage forming a coherent story with unconnected individual blocks. A composition that you can visualize only when you watch it from a distance! And appreciate! Do I? Do I not!…Me, my existence, information…apparently scrambled portions come as a coherent narrative!

  34. Let go, cherry pick, the pretty ones have hooks, remember the solution is always on the demand side. Breathe.

    Silicon is like Seratonin, not always your best bud. Kind of like currency, a substitute for something of actual value, maybe, with a consensus reality. and looking into the state of consensus today, that’s scary. Catch an electron, put it in a jar, call it a virtual firefly.

    A wink and a smile, best delivered personally. Take time, it will certainly take you.

  35. Nice writing Anthony.

    To me, the writing and scholarship of 100 years ago seems much better than writing and scholarship now.

    I sense more labor and more sweat in it. I do not feel long vacations and countless leisures in it. I do not sense the countless flirtations with “Am I still here?” in it. In fact I sense loneliness and writer’s solitude in it. I sense egos that did not get much feedback to the “Am I still here?” voice that was inside them as it is in all of us.

    What drove them forward then, was not constant affirmations of their existence (because they were not getting it), but commitment to some idea, some gut feeling, some guiding star.

    That was their rudder, their anchor, not the more effeminate and measly sense of constant human affirmation. The guiding was from within, or from affinity with higher power without, but not the constant immediacy of human praise.

    I feel confident in saying that the more we seek affirmation to know “Am I still here?” the less there will really be of us. The essence of who we are will occult behind the nameless and formless crowd and gradually round the edges of our definition, and so I think the often asking of “Am I still here?” will transmute to this question: “I am still here, but who am I?”

  36. Thanks for your perceptive commentary on our insecure, technology-addicted society, Anthony.

    I receive a similar message from Z when I find myself beside a “brilliant green pool with a flight of geese flapping along overhead and the autumn sun transforming the cottonwoods into an absolute frenzy of color—each leaf a shining, blessed fountain of light.”

    “You should take a picture,” he whispers to me.

    I am jolted by the interruption to my marveling thoughts of the grandeur surrounding me, and I instinctively reach for my digital camera.

    Instead of fully experiencing the present, my attention diverts to capturing the perfect shot on my camera’s memory card rather than in my own memory. I want to reduce my experience to a tangible piece of evidence. Was I really there? Yes. I have photos to prove it.

    I agree whole-heartedly with your message that we don’t need technology to substantiate our existence. Our society’s dependence on cameras, iPhones, computers and other technological gadgets actually diminishes our sense of reality as we divide our presence between a digital world and the physical world. The real world will assure us that we have a purposeful existence, if we’ll only toss the technology aside from time to time and give life our full attention.

  37. Very true. Each and everyone of us are addicted to ipod, Blackberry, computer, psp, cell phone especially, and many other gadgets that will take away an hour easy. Ever ask yourself, “Where all the time go?” I am guilty being up in the middle of the night and just turning on the computer rather than turning the pages of the book. But, the internet is my information provider and a friend during those midnight hours while my family are asleep. But thank you Orion and Anthony for this “self awareness” essay for reminding us not be let those gadgets control our lives. Furthermore, we all need to stop and smell the roses, and watch the sunset every now and then.

  38. This article is really timely. I have found that the Internet and all the communication has taken away the quality time I used to have with my family and friends.

  39. This is a great article. I can find myself relating to it in more ways than one. I have caught myself waking up in the middle of the night and checking to see what had been going on while I was asleep. I have also been known to check my phone multiple times during classes. I have to agree with Anthony Doeer that we do spend too much time trying to stay connected to what’s going on around the globe than pay attention to the more meaningful things in life. This is a very well written article and it has made me realize I, personally, spend too much time on the internet and on my cell phone.

  40. Tony- incredible article. I look forward to reading many more.
    You have done Bowdoin proud.

    Love the way you worked in Torrington and Silverman. Nice bonus for the Bowdoin alums.

  41. Tony,
    Well done. Poignant, funny, and true. I was just checking your website to find your tour dates in the hope of catching up with you in Denver. Perhaps I’ve missed you already. (You’re NOT here! What the hell?)
    When I do presentations to organizations about stress reduction these days I ask people about their smart phones, having just gotten one myself a couple of months ago (I don’t get my email on it by design – I nearly crash my car enough without it). It’s quite humorous to ask people to raise their hand if they have a “smart phone”. They look at me as though I’m mad, as if I’ve just asked them if they’ve ever used a toilet and, invariably, one or two brave souls speak up to admit they still have a flip phone, likely fearing for their jobs, if not their lives, in what is usually a crowded room of overachieving businesspeople. My take to them is that we’ve simply not evolved quickly enough to be able to psychologically handle the so-called “rewards” technology has bestowed upon us. I am thrilled to now have an expertly rendered discourse on the subject to share with them that underscores the matter so many of us overlook; the best way to know you’re here is to look into a child’s eyes or, alternatively, lay down in the grass. Now excuse me while I search for a picture of Joe Biden…….

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