I really really really like XKCD. There’s the geeky science stuff that one can get into. There’s the crudely drawn stick-figures, a minimalist take on the complexities of modern life. There’s wry social commentary. But I’ll be honest. Half the time, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Whether it’s my lack of a general knowledge of quantum mechanics or the fact that I missed that whole Firefly fan-boy thing, some stuff I only sort of get.
That’s okay though. I think you can appreciate the genius of XKCD on many different levels. As is the case today. In today’s installment, our hero is overstimulated by a cocktail party and longs to be holed up in his room writing papers.
I get that. Oh boy do I get that.
Yesterday, after class, in the middle of several arguments I was having online, my co-conspirator Harry stopped by my office. My office, for those of you who don’t know, is tucked away in the back corner of the IBS suite. I don’t have a window. (Actually, I do have a window. But it only looks out across the hall to the door of the Dean’s office. Goody.) It is, by all accounts, cave like.
I do try and get out of the office at least once during the day, go out and walk around downtown Berkeley, soak up some vitamin D. But I think I like being cooped up in here, writing my papers, reading my books.
This week (and all of next, shudder), I’m in the middle of teaching a two-week intensive on American history and culture to our Japanese university students. Yesterday, a lot (and I mean, a lot) happened. I got sucked into that vortex that is the Internet, for better or worse. Between stuff happening here, stuff happening in other online spaces I follow, a plethora of people dying and their supporters and detractors taking the opportunity to comment on it in sometimes touching sometimes less-than-sensitive way, there was a lot to be soak in, a lot to react to, to comment on. Emotions ran high. And our intrepid hero felt more than a little overstimulated. And longed to be back in his cave, unplugging the ol’ ethernet cable, and pouring over his books and papers.
Egads. I need a vacation.
Of course, most days, I like my little cave here. I like being hidden away, all cooped up with my books and papers. The trouble I seem to have is being able to walk away from the vortex that is the Internet. Being so connected is not at all unlike that cocktail party, a never-ending cocktail party, where everyone’s chattering away about all manner of things. And some things are things I’ve put out there, my own contribution to the chattering. And I worry. I obsesses.
(Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing. This worrying has led me to discover that my paper on Buddhism and pop-culture has seemed to grow some legs. Of course, some of those legs have landed it in curious company over on Homeless Tom’s blog, in a post about hate. Hmm. I’m not sure I see the connection, but am happy to see it out there.)
I guess that’s the thing isn’t it, that last, parenthetical paragraph. The ability to release things into the wild, into the vortex, and then let them go. Not get caught up in the back and forth. Resist the urge to tell people on Digg why they don’t know what they’re talking about. Avoid reading the comments section to news stories. And so on.
So. Since I’m certainly not going to get a vacation any time soon, I think I’ll do the next best thing. Unplug. Pull the ethernet cord from the back of the computer. Crack open a book. Grade some papers. And then head off to a baseball game. Connect with friends and family. Keep up my sporadic butsudan practice. There are so many beautiful things in this world, so much joy. Have a good weekend, folks. Unplug.