Diane Ackerman writes: It was a spring morning in upstate New York, one so cold the ground squeaked loudly underfoot as sharp-finned ice crystals rubbed together. The trees looked like gloved hands, fingers frozen open. A crow veered overhead, then landed. As snow flurries began, it leapt into the air, wings aslant, catching the flakes to drink. Or maybe just for fun, since crows can be mighty playful.
Another life form curved into sight down the street: a girl laughing down at her gloveless fingers which were texting on some hand-held device.
This sight is so common that it no longer surprises me, though strolling in a large park one day I was startled by how many people were walking without looking up, or walking in a myopic daze while talking on their “cells,” as we say in shorthand, as if spoken words were paddling through the body from one saltwater lagoon to another.
As a species, we’ve somehow survived large and small ice ages, genetic bottlenecks, plagues, world wars and all manner of natural disasters, but I sometimes wonder if we’ll survive our own ingenuity. At first glance, it seems as if we may be living in sensory overload. The new technology, for all its boons, also bedevils us with alluring distractors, cyberbullies, thought-nabbers, calm-frayers, and a spiky wad of miscellaneous news. Some days it feels like we’re drowning in a twittering bog of information.
But, at exactly the same time, we’re living in sensory poverty, learning about the world without experiencing it up close, right here, right now, in all its messy, majestic, riotous detail. The further we distance ourselves from the spell of the present, explored by our senses, the harder it will be to understand and protect nature’s precarious balance, let alone the balance of our own human nature. [Continue reading…]