Wednesday 5 May 2021

The Aching Wrist

Hello! Benedict Ambrose and I have returned from the seaside. That is to say, we have been staying at a place far enough east along the Firth of Forth to count as a shore of the North Sea. My internet fast began a week ago last Saturday, but we did not go away for the first two days. First, residents of Scotland were not free to rent "self-catered accommodation" until Monday, April 26, and, second, my idea of a rest involved tidying our home and then getting the garden sorted. 

But a funny thing happened after sorting out the garden on Sunday, April 25. I woke up at 4 AM Monday with shooting pains in my right wrist. I first developed "overuse syndrome" in my right arm when my then-office got a new computer system in 2000, and sometime it comes back. Well, by Monday it was definitely back. I got out of bed, took the wine bottle sleeve out of the freezer, and popped it on my arm. And my part of Monday's cleaning and packing session mostly involved giving B.A. advice and instructions. 

It was another lesson in what "resting" means. My first lesson was on Saturday when I felt positively tearful that I had got so little cleaning done. The most I was able to do was clear off my desk, which I haven't been able to use for actual writing for months. It has been a combination bookcase and filing cabinet. We were having a walk, and B.A. suggested we have pizza for supper, and tearfulness gave way to barely suppressed rage. I had been trying to eat healthily for weeks, and the very first day I stop working, yada yada. 

Fortunately, it was a silent yada yada. Before the devil could take over my tongue, I  recalled that bad things usually happen to people early in their holidays from work. They cry a lot. They get sick. Their minds and bodies take revenge for all the abuse and neglect their owners have put them through. So I said "Yes" to supermarket pizza, and when we got home from our walk, I went for a little lie-down. I was dog tired. 

On Sunday my right arm felt a little achy, and as usual I ignored it until--We've been over that. My arm continued the freezy-sleeve treatment all Monday (including on our train) and Tuesday, and I was deeply, deeply grateful I would not have to type or scroll or do any fine hand movements for the next ten days. I read an amazing book about the problems with the internet, and it never once mentioned the damage constant tapping and scrolling does to our actual hands and arms. 

That said, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is a must-read. It has scared me into pledging to be online only eight hours a day. I will also be taking a lunch-break from now on, plus two 15 minute breaks, as if I were back in ye olde government office again. I will go into the garden and stare glassily at the lawn and my veggie trug. 

In short (for my posts will be shorter from now on), surfing or just actually reading the web is the intellectual equivalent, author Nicholas Carr says, of doing a crossword puzzle while reading a book. You are constantly, subconsciously problem-solving ("Do I click this link or not?") when you are trying to read. Therefore, you don't really read. You skim. And that, brothers and sisters, is why you and I feel so frustrated sometimes when we use internet sources for our actual work. It is cognitively much harder work than just reading a book, making notes, and typing up a report. Also, you think you are taking it all in, like you do when you read a book, but you're not. Your working memory effectively transfer it to your long-term memory, for the internet is presenting, quite literally, too much information.

But I began The Shallows a week last Tuesday. On Monday evening, after we arrived at the seaside, we just went for a walk, listening to the rigging of little ships chime against the masts in the wind, and bought fish and chips. Although the walk to and from the railway with backpacks and folded canvas garden chairs hadn't been that onerous, I positively wolfed the fish and chips. 

As for the internet fast, I will cut to the chase and say that apart from a pronunciation recording on Facebook I used a few times, and the Youtube or pay TV that B.A. streamed into the rental flat's TV and the Skype app on B.A's computer to talk to Mum and Dad, I did not use the internet for ten days. Oh, I sent a Facebook message to Nulli on his birthday, too. But that was it for social media, and I did no surfing or staring at pretty things on Pinterest, eBay, etc.

Yesterday, to ease myself back into the modern world, I checked my work messages. One colleague has had a baby, another has successfully bought things in Virginia while maskless, and Milo Yiannapoulos has thrown a ring into the sea. I then checked my personal email. Of all the dozens of emails, only seven held any interest for me. Two were from our priest, one was from my accountant, one was from a friend in Canada, one was from a young friend wanting references, and two alerted to me to articles I actually wanted to read. Therefore, I have spent part of my eight-hour daily internet allowance today unsubscribing from various companies. 

Dear readers, be careful with your brains and, indeed, your wrists. 


  1. I agree we need to be careful with what the Internet is doing to our brains. How do you square that sentiment with LSN sensationalism? My mom spends a couple of hours reading it every night and we barely speak anymore because she is so caught up in what I see as conspiracy theories. My aunt, who used to hardly be online at all, is caught up in it too along with apocalyptic sites. The fear and outrage really hook people and are dividing faithful Catholic families.

    1. Normally I don't respond to anonymous comments, and I try to keep this blog totally separate from my work. However, I think you deserve a response. First, it's the medium we need to be very concerned about, more than the content. "The medium is the message," as my fellow Canadian McLuhan had to say. One of the problems with internet news is that is it VERY hard for people to read all the way to the end, and often all they remember is the headline, the first paragraph, and maybe the most electrifying sentence or idea they perceive in the article. (I noticed yesterday that a reader in the LSN combos totally misremembered an article I wrote.) Second, there are many voices out there, and different publications are giving space to different voices, just as the Toronto Sun (for example) has a different editorial stance on things than the Toronto Star (or to use a British example, the Telegraph vs the Guardian, and in the USA, WaPo vs. the New York Post. LSN definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer, as it were. It is one of the few online news sources that will, for example, refuse to recognise same sex legal arrangements as marriage. It is probably also the most-read online journal that asks uncomfortable questions about governments' responses to COVID-19, including the emphasis on mass-vaccination instead of treatment. A free press means journalists and editors asking questions other journalists and editors don't want to ask. Third, we are going through a very, very bad time--as Catholics, as Westerners, and as human beings, frankly. We've been frightened to death by governments and mass media for over a year and yet even a liberal literary magazine like "The Atlantic" has published evidence that we are very unlikely to catch COVID outdoors or from surfaces. A lot of the MSM (and governments) have simply got things wrong and violated our rights in many places without need--or even evidence. In Scotland we were illegally (a court finally decided) stopped from attending public worship---openly, that is, since in Scotland as in other places some people simply went underground. So. It's a bad time, and therefore I highly recommend not being part of the division. Listen to what your mother and aunt have to say, say that you are sorry that they are so frightened/upset, and ask them to go for a walk or do some other activity that will take their minds off what you see as conspiracy theories. Personally, I do not discuss the controversies of the day with my family--and if we do talk about the Covid-19 vaccination program, I judge which information or opinion is least likely to upset a loved one. This is not as hard as it sounds, for in fact my family is "mixed"--my mother's parents were Protestants, and my sister-in-law is from the Orthodox tradition. Therefore, I am used to certain subjects being off the dinner table, as it were.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to respond! My extended family on my mom's side is fortunate in that we are pretty much all practicing Catholics, go to pro-life events, etc, so having to tiptoe around issues is new and hard. My mom and aunt are beside themselves at the thought of their (young adult) children being vaccinated, offering instead essential oils purchased from Mark Mallett's wife's MLM. It's the elephant in every room for my siblings, cousins and me.

    You mentioned The Atlantic and I really appreciate the nuance of one of their writers, Zeynep Tufecki. If you read her substack, it's a much calmer experience than reading LSN and so I think the medium can vary on the Internet. My mom, however, is not reading a diversity of voices because she doesn't think she can trust anything remotely mainstream. I know we aren't the only family divided like this, often along generational lines. You could write a fascinating article on the topic, I'm sure.

    Anyway, I have read and enjoyed your blogs for many years and I just hope you can encourage a more measured tone at LSN or better yet write for somewhere like The Pillar. Thanks again for listening.