Perhaps the saddest accolade of our modern faith is this: “Our world is more interconnected than ever before.” It’s a statement as bold on the first read as it is meaningless on the second, and one that is not only sad but also somewhat horrifying upon further examination.
So, exactly what is “more” interconnected, and why are we celebrating?
Are we more connected to our natural world in the early 21st century than, say, the early 19th? Is the screen shot of a desert on Windows 10 a more authentic form of experiencing the world’s beauty? Does being jetted to an ecotourism rainforest holiday (with spa) connect us more deeply to the planet than the act of sitting alone under a tree in the local park for an afternoon? Are we truly more connected to each other, as we shuffle to our cars, to our work, to our homes, to our beds?
Is it social media that brings us to be interconnected with our thousands of “friends”? That brings us pictures of intimate dinners, cute cats, clever memes? Can we even begin to measure a hundred Facebook likes against the satisfaction of receiving one handwritten missive from a longtime friend, and years later, discovering her letter of reply, tucked into an old copy of Tartt’s The Secret History? No doubt, for many, racking up likes is a bridge from loneliness; certainly, signing on to social media makes it easier to “connect” than knocking on a neighbor’s door and chatting about the family and the weather.
Perhaps it is through the economy —whose institution has sacrificed the local web of livelihoods for the fragile gratitude of a global supply chain — that we’re more interconnected. Or maybe it is to our fellow species that we have become more connected, although not the 50 percent of them projected to be extinct by mid-century. (It must count for something that they are preserved for eternity on select Nova episodes.)
Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!
I am ensnared now by threads of deception, many that I have spun myself. If I could but seize the axe and sever these cords, I’d return to a world that wasn’t interconnected. A hypothetical “disconnected” world in which I knew, really knew,my family, my neighbors, my community, this valley, this land. A world in which I experienced the view of my fields from under a favorite tree, and never on a glowing screen. Detached, cut loose and drifting, away from this horror show of a failed civic discourse. Into a world in which misunderstanding was solved with respectful discussion and a handshake; communications with family were handwritten instead of texted, in which relatives would come upon my friend’s letter, tucked away in a book, when going through my estate.
Where, standing in the barnyard, I would proclaim, “I didn’t retreat, I attacked,” to the listening crows and the steaming compost bin. And then sit on the porch, with you, in companionable silence, as together we tore apart these threads.
Reading this weekend: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (Modern Library anthology). And, scaring myself silly with Victorian ghost stories.