The feeling came a few weeks ago as I drove along a back road near the Potomac River. I was in the lowlands, about to cross from Virginia to Maryland, driving alone during a day in which I’d purposely disconnected from email, Twitter and most things digital.
I think we see things differently on those days.
My car rounded a bend, and through the trees I could see the river. The scene was perfection: bare trees arrayed on a grassy plain, standing watch next to the Potomac. If I’d shot a photo, it would have brushed up against Ansel Adams in intent if not quality. It took my breath, and I gave thanks.
Soon I was on a bridge crossing the river and then into Maryland. But the scene stayed in mind as I drove toward my destination, the road now winding through rustic small towns that seemed to take me even farther from the office.
I’ve thought back on those minutes often as 2011 disappeared into time past. I’ve thought how I need many more of those minutes.
I’m not one for resolutions at the new year because I know how weak I truly am to remain resolute. And just as I resisted writing a post encapsulating all my data journalism and digital learning from 2011 — Census, Book List, Python, Django — I resisted a Jan. 1 list of “I Resolve To’s” because I am convinced that in a year I will look back and think, “How ambitious; how off base.”
But this one thing I do know: I need more of the real, more of the analog — the continually variable that I can touch and feel and know in my bones and which cannot be replicated by ones and zeros. I need more of the trees and the rivers and the majestic sky and what they declare and less of the incoming barrage of breathless missives that amount to nothing very much at all.
I have a hunger inside that digital does not fill:
I need the feel of strings under my fingers, the harmonic overtones of an A chord through a tube amplifier. Or an A minor 7 for the cloudy days.
I need dirt under my fingernails, packed in from sowing seeds and digging up fallow soil. I need dirt on my knees from the daily acknowledgement that I need more strength than I have.
I need my people, my boys, my love, tucked close and laughing and riding this adventure together, never left as an afterthought to the list of tasks.
Our Digital Now should be giving this to me, but it’s not. No, not at all.
It’s giving me good things, helpful things. I can find the cheapest gasoline in town without driving around. I can see video of a dictator caught in a desert culvert just moments after it happened. It’s even giving me a voice right here. But it’s giving me way too much that’s useless along with it. It’s giving me a tsunami of the useless, of feeble boastings in 140-characters, of insistent urgings that insist I turn my eyes away from the trees and the sky and the river, to take my hands off the strings, to get up off my knees. And in the end, it doesn’t feel like life but like death.
So, I have no resolution for the new year. I just have a direction. I’ll remember it framed in a scene of trees on a riverbank.