Wednesday, 11 June 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Not in my case, definitely in yours


Yesterday Indyblogs' Rhodri Marsden wrote about an article from The Atlantic which asked, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". Almost everybody must have some sympathy with Nicholas Carr's clever piece, which details our present-day difficulties really immersing ourselves in anything as a result of minds made fidgety by the internet.

But it's not just webheads who feel their brains are becoming more fragmented. An older generation - who only look at their emails once a week - will trot out similar complaints.

At Kew, where I am a volunteer tour guide, we rarely get more laughs than when we explain that the Gingko biloba tree (with the distinctive leaf pictured here) produces a drug which is
being investigated for its memory-improving qualities. Almost without exception most people will joke "Where can I buy it?" (the answer being "the health food shop by Kew Gardens station.")

Garden blogging is, in this context, the most contradictory of activities. Gardening is about immersing yourself (there's a new American word for that, btw, folks: "immersive"). It's about losing yourself in time and space, folding your own thoughts and preoccupations away and realigning yourself with the living, breathing, growing world. Rester Zen, as the French would have it. An hour's digging or weeding, as well as tiring me out and distracting me from the bubbling internal chatter we all have, also has me feeling that I have left the world a slightly
better place at the end of it.

In contrast, blogging is about creating, in HTML code, the very architecture for the jump-cut style of thinking that Nicholas Carr discusses. As bloggers we aim to maximise links, creating those little alleyways for exploration that are the delight of the lunchtime web-surfer. In fact we are making a text specifically designed to divert readers from their original path - as Carr so nicely puts it when discussing the internet model for web advertising, "it's in their economic interest to drive us to distraction."

Yet the contradiction still feels resolvable, to me anyway. The struggle between the busy noise of everyday life and our need for contemplative time has always existed, and we just have to make sure that we keep the balance. Most of us have experienced the internet's addictive, gorging quality: we need to make sure our lives have other experiences in them which balance out that frenetic buzz.

Here's Carr again: "In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas."

So you know what my personal prescription would be? Get outside and do an hour's weeding.

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