Letter From New York, August 21, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…
I am back from the Vineyard and ensconced this morning at the cottage, curled on the couch, as the early morning sun becomes hidden behind incoming rain clouds, rain that has been predicted all weekend but which has held off now until today, Sunday.

I realized that the cottage is my land of “off.” I arrive and feel a weight lift from me, for a moment I am away, mostly, from the deluge of email, some of which feel like they “e-maul” me.

And the lovely sight of Claverack Creek lazily flowing is more than soothing and over each day I am here, I want, as much as possible, to let the soul rest as well as the body, to enjoy quiet and to recoup from the wear and tear of life. Even though I know my life is magic compared with so many in the world – almost all our lives are – I also know we are not immune from the vagaries of life.

Earlier this week, I read that western nations are more deeply plagued by depression than underdeveloped nations. Is it, I wonder, the result of complex lives, the juggling of so much beyond the basics that our brains malfunction from the strain of processing? Is depression a by-product of technological development? At least on the scale from which we seem to suffer from it?

I don’t know the answer to that but the question has scratched around my brain since I read that factoid in an online article earlier this week while researching something completely different. So I went online and googled “depression and technology” and found out I am not the only man on a laptop who has questioned that this might be the case. “Depression and technology” brought up 131,000,000 items in 0.17 seconds [oh, how we love you Google]. There are also indications that technology can help with depression, particularly among seniors who are beginning to feel isolated and feel they have lost their autonomy.

It is complex and fascinating and a subject I am going to delve into more as time goes on. One writer ruminated on what he felt was the impossibility of the human mind at this time successfully processing all the information we are presented with [I’m saying ‘at this time’ because gosh knows we evolve; perhaps we are at a stage similar to the first creatures that crawled out of the sea to conquer land living?]. But certainly the human brain has had to cope with a dazzling degree of technological evolution in the last hundred or so years.

My Google search revealed people were beginning to wonder about it in the 1920’s and if they were wondering about it then…

Just think about how many of us get anxious if we haven’t checked our email on our smartphones in the last twenty minutes? How many people do I know, myself included, who roll over in the morning and check their smartphone to see what has occurred during the night? Many. Almost all of the people I know are information obsessive and feel anxious if they are cut off.

And this probably is not a good thing. Perhaps a very bad thing? Perhaps a road toward depression?

So I am going to do my best the next few days and pay attention to information overload, be sensitive to it and hold it a bit at bay while still accomplishing my duties and yet thinking about the role technology may play on us, individually and nationally, in encountering psychological distress as the price of technological innovation.

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