Like Sands Through the Hourglass

From Public Books:

My nine-year-old, S, spends substantially more time online these days, because that is where he sees his friends, and he is at the age where play is his primary form of friendship. They are usually meeting up in Minecraft—the ubiquitous blocky building environment—running on a shared private server, which is to say that they play in the digital playground they have built for themselves. S moved with us to a new state and started at a new school during the pandemic, so he plays with a combination of kids from his old school and his new classmates, whom he’s never met in person. It works.

But lately I am noticing how much less they are building together. Now they mainly run. Run and run from mission to mission, making it up as they go along. It’s like the tag I remember from my own youth, last tastes of wild before the streetlights came on, just a reason to run and yell and leap toward even the smallest horizon.

This, I suppose, has been the grand transposition. For many of us, daily life is now even more heavily delivered through screens. The computer world is the place of the daily grind, and now we struggle to moderate and manage our time out in the flesh world. During their game time, the kids use videoconferencing like Zoom to talk and to sort of feel each other’s presence, but they seldom use their faces. When I peek in on my older child’s classes, I see rows of partly obscured teenage faces. My own child is mainly a forehead with a shock of fluff atop.

The kids are there. But they also seem to have entered a generational compact regarding what that presence should look like. They are trying to force Zoom life back into alignment with their other experiences of digital self-representation, with all the complexities of control, capture, and release pertaining. They have mastered the art of sending forth their appropriate representatives into Zoom space, and I admire them.

But they also suffer. What day is it? What time is it? We are a household of students and teachers, so of course we actually know; our schedules are as full as on any prepandemic day. But then why does it always feel like time has become unknowable? My guess is that if we were to experience time, we would also have to compute many other scales and quantities, and such a deepening of life’s map would be unbearable.

It’s like an amplified version of when you have a job that requires radically different hours from the people around you. The rhythms are all off, and it’s difficult to communicate the nature of the difference—the different nature, the nature you now inhabit—because even the patterns of your when and how and why are so much at a distance from everyone else. Sunrise becomes your bedtime, and you work hard never to think about what you are missing, because it is seldom that you get to be there when.

This is our place. This digitized where is who we are in this moment. I wonder what my children will remember, the deep sea of their experience spanned across the common space of their screens, spatially edged, temporally edgeless.

Link to the rest at Public Books

1 thought on “Like Sands Through the Hourglass”

  1. Now you’re talking. This is what I’m looking for. That’s the way in.

    – The past ain’t what it used to be.

    All these Liminal events happening around us. There is very little actual Reality right now.

    See The Aegypt series by John Crowley as example for when things settle down.

    I harvested the actual essay for my Story folder. It fits right in with my story of a Black community that has vanished, as if it had never been.

    Thanks…

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