Do you ever get the pricky-willies? That uncomfortable sensation like fresh cut hair in your shirt that both scratches and tickles at the same time? I get the pricky-willies when I see someone taking the time to walk alone by the lake but talking into a cellphone as they do. Some of the folks I witness doing this are regulars — walking up and down the lake every day talking to a disembodied voice inside a sleek glass cuboid Hershey bar.
I realize I am casting wild, unfounded projections all over the place. I love the sound of wind crawling like a whisper into the curve of my ears. When it is cold like it was this past sunny Sunday, an eighteen mile an hour wind slaps the face like a wet sheet snapping on a clothesline.
Besides the tactile sensations there are the colors, even in the dead of winter. Tungsten blue water against snow and ice, the swaying yellow-green of naked willow branches, brown grasses, and dark earth. In spring and summer of course, the lake canvass is a spray of green, blue, brown, and red hues. Add bugs, birds, fish, and groundhogs and we are talking about a symphony of sights, sounds, colors, and motions in three-hundred and sixty degree surround action. Maybe some folks can witness all of that while talking on a phone but it would severely handicap me.
They say loneliness is rampant in our society. While I read and understand the multitude of reasons for the crippling nature of loneliness being suffered, I think it is also true that we have forgotten how to be alone and so when we are, it is painful. Being alone and being lonely are of course, two different and not necessarily connected conditions. I say this as someone who is married and so may lack credibility, but as an extrovert I had to learn how to be alone without being lonely.
One of the things that happens when we are alone, especially for prolonged periods of time, is that we catch up with ourselves. That includes the thoughts, memories, and voices that we welcome as well as those we would rather shut the door on. It takes some work to figure out how to filter all that stuff so that we can regulate the flow inside, but there is no substitute for time alone to figure it out. The plethora of electronic devices just makes it too easy to avoid being alone. We pay a price for that.
Then again, the lake path is a great place for lovers, pals, and families. We may distract one another as we walk but the lake’s sweet natural milieu will wrap us in its magical healing powers. So I am not protesting sharing the lake as a social enterprise, rather, the use of electronic devices to keep us from feeling lonely.
There is so much unfounded and unwarranted baloney being served up about bodily fasting and cleansing when what we really need to consider are ways of measured abstinence from digital encumbrance. I mean a practice of being alone with phone, television, computers, games, and music turned off. Begin with a half an hour of dedicated time and work your way up to a half or whole day, perhaps. There is lonely and then there is alone, which is healthy.
Tim Long, Just Up the Hill from Lock 15 says
I think, Fr. Cam, that I’m learning to live with the pricky-willies- I get around predominantly by bicycle these days (and a vintage-y English one at that), and when I cross River Drive in Davenport on my way home, I take a snap survey of the drivers waiting for the green, so they can scoot on down the road to the next light, and about a third of them are staring at that sleek little cuboid, rather than the big Mississippi, other traffic, or the joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. Or bother to notice me crossing on two wheels. Sometimes I see drivers captivated with the thing, even while they pile through the intersection, on the gas, at forty-seven, hoping to beat the next light. Anyway, I think I’m moving toward acceptance that there are folks just lost to the pull of that gadget. English writer Paul Kingsnorth recently wrote that “The serpent has unwound himself from the tree and curled up behind the screens, and none of us are able to turn our gaze away.”
In my own detoxing process of the past five years, I switched to a dumb phone, and I’m moving toward having a pocket folder of a half dozen snapshots of my sons, the house, the dog; so that when friends are scrolling through six dozen images on their device for my benefit, and ask if I have pictures of my life, I can pull that out of my pocket. Those’ll be black and white prints, from the lab. From the old 35mm.
I want to be able to turn my gaze away. I want to slow the heck down. I’m more content when I can simply be where I am, or move about at a more human eleven miles per hour. The world won’t change anytime soon, and it all gives me the willies, but maybe, slowing down, with a friendly wave or tip of the helmet brim and a sincere smile to those encountered along the way might just suggest that something different than going around like gods works, too.
Always appreciate your insights, and thanks. Tim
Cam Miller says
Tim, you may be horrified to hear that I just acquired an E-bike and love it. I get the desire to simplify and Wendell Berry it (btw, I have a signed copy of “In the peace of wild things” my son got us when he attended a WB lecture at college), which I try to do, but there are good things about technology. We live in a net-zero house for example, and the E-bike allows me to use my car less and still get around town for work as well as recreation. So I appreciate your hard fought efforts to pacify the beast and applaud them, while also holding out hope that there is a balance that can be had for the earth and for ourselves. Every day teaches us forward if we allow.
Thanks, as always, for your joining in the conversation!
Tim Long, Just Up the Hill from Lock 15 says
There’s a sticker hanging from the seat bag of the old Phillips 3-speed that says “One Less Car”, which is posted on the license plate holder of the old Triumph, too. An E-bike is “One Less Car”, and must be a joy to get around with, said the fella whose principal ICE vehicle is an old Bonneville, which is a joy to get around with, too. Nonetheless, mind your braking distance. Some mild Wendell Berry envy working here, btw. 🙂
Cam Miller says
I confess to you Tim, I love my new E-bike (a Trek Verve 3). I’m getting a lot more exercise because I go anywhere and everywhere on it, even against fierce wind. I was much more limited, or limited myself much more, with the old bike (which I also loved — a giant Schwinn Hybrid). Keep on keeping on!
Anthony Tovatt would be applauding if only he were still around.
Cam Miller says
Whoa, that is exceptionally high praise! I can only hope it would be true. Thanks.
edwin beck says
I have a perennial problem seeing a young parent pushing a child in a stroller while talking on a cell phone. Talk about loneliness: not only does that kid learn about being lonely, missing out on being a part of the conversation; but of equal (perhaps more) importance is the loss of an opportunity for early literacy. Our interaction with young children, starting with observations about the immediate world around us is “right up there” with reading to kids, having a home with books, and many other factors which are critical in literacy development – they are how our species become readers and writers and listeners and speakers, ultimately effective and proficient and contributing to one another. When neglected on a massive level, the culture elects a Trump. Thanks, Cam.