Andersen: Flash! I’m free at last
September 23, 2013
It was a flash of lightning that set me free. It took a fire bolt in the dark of night to sever the shackles to my mind, to my very soul. I startled awake to a deafening boom followed by a blue-green glow and a deep hummmm. There was an acrid smell of brimstone in the air. My clocks all needed resetting. Time was interrupted.
The blast came from the heavens, from a thunderbolt hurled by Zeus. His vengeful target was my computer modem. The gods are angry because we worship a hubristic god of our own design — technology. Zeus smote my modem as a message: "Beware! Reboot! Turn away from false idols of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube."
My modem got cooked last week by a celestial act, and the first thing I did was call for help. How was I to go about my day without the ubiquitous connection that has come to mean everything? Would I go mad confined to the cocoon of my solitary thoughts?
I dialed the phone tech. A girl named Kelly answered and led me through the diagnostics — unplugging and plugging jacks, power cords, phone connections. Nothing worked. The unblinking red light of the broadband line stared at me with Cyclopsian scorn.
I faced a demented, enraged, embittered, panicked tomblike existence until … until … "Monday," said Kelly. "That's the soonest I can have your modem shipped to you."
I counted the days and battled suicidal thoughts. I glared at my impotent computer, now merely a work station instead of an all-seeing, omniscient global nerve center. It hummed placidly as if it hadn't a care in the world. This despite the sudden lack of an info-umbilical chord, a techno-tentacle reaching into its core and filling it with … what?
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I mentioned this to a friend on the phone the morning after the lightning bolt. (I actually talked to this friend rather than e-mailed with digital efficiency, hearing his voice, his inflection, his humanness.) He told me a story: "I was in London meeting up with my son for a trip in the Swiss Alps. We drove to the airport and he realized he had forgotten his Blackberry. Panic gripped him as he called his wife. Could she bring it to him in time? That was impossible, so he went without it. He had been tethered to that device and now he was free. We had the best trip ever because of that."
"You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," sang Joni Mitchell, and you don't know what's got you 'til it's gone. Technology has us by the short hairs. It tugs on us at will and we respond like Pavlov's pooches. When it's gone it's gone, and life becomes simpler, less cluttered, more selective.
"Here there is time …" wrote Anne Morrow Lindbergh in "Gift From the Sea," the final chapter of which describes her blessed refuge on an island, "… time to be quiet, time work without pressure, time to think, time to look at the stars or to study a shell, time to see friends, to gossip, to laugh, to talk. Time, even, not to talk."
Without my modem I find myself on a small island, only as big as my home, an island on a placid bay, away from the static of life, far from the rush and roar of it. I find more time in the day, a greater economy of keystrokes, a serene sense of removal from the turbid mainstream.
The new modem arrives Monday, so by the time you're reading this I will be preparing to re-enter the beating pulse of the world, to face the full monty of the media, the constant contact from which I have had a forced vacation — thanks to the gods on Mt. Olympus.
Maybe the next time Zeus hurls his electric spear he will take out, not only my modem, but my telephone and my computer — all in one brilliant, searing stroke. Then, freed by fire, I'll walk off into the woods and find a quiet place to pass the days.