Things Are In the Saddle

These lines–Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind–should be familiar to any college student who had to read early American literature.  These are lines that, when I first read them, I didn’t quite understand them.  It was the late 1980s and while my husband and I were starting to tread carefully into personal computer ownership, we were still technologically young enough to be giddy over our remote controlled TV and new CD player.  As the years passed and we accumulated more gadgets and at a faster rate than we could have anticipated, those lines of Emerson‘s spring to my mind more and more frequently.

In a society where consumerism is nearly a religion and oftentimes used to show “patriotism,”  it’s difficult not to fall into a depression of sorts when the It of “is this it?” is not enough.  You buy gadgets that reportedly will enhance your life, and six months later they are obsolete.  So you purchase anew to feel purpose in life and the cycle continues.  It’s not only a sad way to live, it’s unsustainable.  Unless you’re incredibly wealthy, at some point you run of money to buy the things that you think will give your life meaning.  Hence, the lottery.  A quick fix.  A desire to be wealthy without having to work for it (unless you consider standing in line work).  When I’m in one of my Peggy Lee moods and start humming Is That All There Is?, I:

  • go for a walk without my iPod so I’m not distracted from the song and flight of birds, the squirrels chasing each other up and down trees, the hum of insects;
  • pick up a hardcover book and feel it’s weight in my hands and the dryness of paper as I flip through the pages;
  • hug my husband;
  • pet my cats;
  • call a friend;
  • write

Granted, some of these things cost money:  shoes for walking, books for reading, food for husband and cats, phone for calls, pen and paper for writing.  But none of them requires a gadget, a technological device that has been partly designed to make me feel lost without it (even the phone mentioned is one that we’ve had for about 20 years).  We are existential beings struggling to make sense of a world that often makes little sense.  We are sold things with the promise that we can derive meaning for our lives through these things.  But do we?  How many of us, every so often, decide to go “off the grid” in a quest to find true meaning, sustainable meaning, meaning that will outlast every technological advance we embrace?

Recently, our DSL had an interruption in services for at least a day.  I admit, when I realized that I could not connect to the Internet, that I could not check my blog or my favorite blogs, I panicked.  I didn’t know why I couldn’t connect and the thought of being disconnected for unknown hours was chilling.  It was early morning, before I had to leave for work and I was in a panic that I could not “log on” and get my blog fix before setting off for my day job.  But, my husband was still there.  In fact, he was oblivious to my panic because he was on the porch reading a book, his morning routine before setting out for work.  My cats were still there and actually annoyed that I was in more of a tizzy over the loss of my Internet access than I ever am when it’s their feeding time.  My books hadn’t disappeared, and I still had drawers of pens, pencils and paper to write on.  I didn’t check my phone because I actually hate phones.

It was a wake-up call for me.  Should I be so dependent on technology that I stop breathing when I open Firefox and get the message:  “Error.  Server unavailable”?  Should I allow these things to ride me?  Or should I embrace the sudden silence, the sense of time slowing, the drawn-out minutes when I can pick up an unread issue of the New York Review of Books or Harper’s or The New Yorker and feel reconnected to that time, 30-some years ago, when I read these periodicals as soon as they arrived in the mail?

I don’t want to go totally off-the-grid.  I wouldn’t have a blog if I did, but I don’t like feeling controlled by technology, made to feel that every second I don’t own an iPhone is a second lost to me.  [Disclaimer:  I do own and love my iPad2, but note it is an iPad2, not the newest iPad and, like all my other gadgets, I’ll likely still be using it long past its obsolescence.]  So, fellow bloggers, and any one else who stumbles across this post, are you in the saddle, or are things?

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  1. I go through this on a routine basis, perhaps because I earn my living at my computer (writing software), only to end the day to go off blog reading/writing, facebooking, writing, etc … On top of that, my wife loves her iPad 3 and she spends quite a bit of time swiping away at, either searching craigslist or playing games or all the things we tend to do with iPads. I’ve even proposed to her that we regularly have an “off grid” day each week where we do something different, things that don’t require access to the internet. We have yet to implement this “technology free” day, but I hope to.

    I must confess, though, that I have an iPhone (5 … but only because I got it for $2.84), an iPad 2, a MacBook Pro, AppleTV, and … well, you get the picture. As I write it out, it looks pretty pathetic. Sucked into technology as well as Apple products. Sheesh.

    All that to say, I’m with you. Setting this stuff aside and enjoying simpler, quieter moments in life is a great idea. Now, the trick will be to get myself to make it happen.


    • Oh, Dave, I’m right there with you! I work on a computer all day (also writing code but for public health statistics), but still, between me and my husband, we have: an iPad2, three laptops, a Mac 20-inch desktop, another desktop computer with 2 monitors, 3 (soon to be 4) digital cameras, cable TV, subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, etc etc! Because I write in SQL and some of my programs take minutes, even hours to run, I multitask with my iPad at work. That’s not always a good thing since, as I get older, multitasking gets harder. So far our off-grid days tend to be ones that are forced upon us, like when the network goes down ;) Making it happen is, indeed, the trick!


  2. I Live in Joshua Tree California, Near the famous National Park (remember the U2 album.).
    It has gained a reputation for spirituality, due in parts to the many Native American Indian reservations, and a large retreat center, the “Institute of Mentalphysics”, just outside the city.

    Sustainability and whole living are coffee-shop discussions, and the artist colony in the area is diverse and unique. Many questions are implicit, or spoken openly in the lives of the residents in their art and lifestyle, and many are at peace. Discussions about facing fears to break through, there is a recent discussion of mine with a very peaceful neighbor.

    I am dependent–overly dependent, on my PC at the moment, but my upcoming move back to be near my family should stabilize my lopsided habits. No doubt your wisdom, and that of many folks up here in the high desert, will ring true.

    Thanks, Marie



    • Jim, I am loving your photos of Joshua Tree. I’ve visited areas in Arizona and Nevada, lands of dry quiet and peace, of barren landscapes that teem with life. Right now I live in suburbia and I don’t like it too much. I’ve lived, actually grew up, in the country, where there were more cows than people, and I miss the timelessness of the country, the stillness of the air. But I am wired (technologically speaking) and will likely move to a larger city after we retire. As I get older, I need those things (mass transit, social services) that are more readily found in major cities. The trick (as Dave mentions) will be to make the simple, quieter moments happen in a city that never sleeps.
      Thanks for commenting. Big hug, Marie


  3. “It was a wake-up call for me. Should I be so dependent on technology that I stop breathing when I open Firefox and get the message”

    this is one of those tough questions……

    Because while I’m totally backwards when it comes to technology…..

    The Internet is less about technology for me as it is about reading…..

    I read my newspapers online,
    i read blogs online
    I do a lot of research online for essays I am writing
    and I also do a lot of research online for two books I’m writing….

    I really don’t want to go to the library for those things, I’d rather sit at a coffee shop and read all of it on the Internet……

    so the Internet for me is one piece of technology that has become an essential component of my life….

    now all the rest of it; automobiles, cloning, hair dryers, …..

    I can do without :)


    • I do a lot of reading online as well as research. I just hate feeling dependent on it. Yet, I love my iPad, I love my iPad ;)


  4. meg

     /  June 1, 2013

    LOV, LOV LOVE, My Ipad. I will NOT walk in the woods with my ipod and ear plugs. I must hear all that is going on around me.


  5. Hey, I think that’s my friend Meg! Yup, I love my iPad and iPod too but not when walking in the woods. Birdsong and the rustling of wind through trees wins hands down anyday ;)


  6. Thank you, friend!


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