When I first started blogging fourteen years ago, I always gave myself a month off in August. I’d never worked as hard as a journalist before, and the absorption of so much information together with the expenditure of so much energy and attention made me long for the empty days of late summer. And, of course, when I look now at the kind of blog I produced back then, it seems like a luxurious well of indolence. In a regular month, I’d write 70 posts; now the number is around a thousand – made possible by the team that now edits, creates and curates this blog. If the ratio of time off to blog-posts were calculated, even a month off now is really a week off back then. The exhaustion is more extreme; the recovery longer; the pace ever-faster.
It is fashionable to speak of the end of blogs these days, but in fact, almost everyone now has a blog, it seems to me. Everyone’s Facebook page is a blog of sorts; Twitter is a more efficient way of showering the world with little links and ideas (aka blogging like Glenn Reynolds, who was, in retrospect, a tweeter as a blogger); Instagram makes everyone a photo-blogger and aggregator. And so the month off becomes, in fact, much more necessary – and yet far more elusive. I get to take a month off because I own this thing – but it is not lost on me that, these days, that is almost a fathomless luxury. And to go not simply off-grid, but off-off-grid (in a place where no Internet signal can be found) suggests the desperation for rest and peace that we now all routinely experience.
So what do I see from off-off- the grid? I don’t see our virtual lives as chimerae, or imposters, or fakes. Like David Roberts, I see them as often rich aspects of our social lives, more accessible to the introvert (ahem), and opening up new avenues of communication and understanding. Roberts channels Montaigne here:
I don’t have any illusions about the inherent moral/spiritual superiority of meatspace friends and interactions. I don’t view my online life as some kind of inauthentic performance in contrast to a meatspace life lived as the Real Me. I can trace a great deal of the richness in my life back to digital roots.
The fact is, all our interactions are performances, even those interactions we experience as purely internal (that internal monologue). They are all shaped by larger cultural and economic forces. That’s because human beings are social creatures, not contingently but inherently. We are always ourselves in relation to someone or something; interacting with others is how children form their sense of being separate, autonomous agents. There is no homunculus, no true, authentic, indivisible self or soul underneath all the layers of social intercourse. It’s social all the way down.
I don’t think I’d go that far – there are things called genes, after all – but I do share his rejection of the notion that virtual life is inherently worth less than real life.