recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : blackouts   1

Demons by Candelight
"I grew up with frequent power outages and load-shedding, especially during the summer time. Dark evenings without power were a special time for children. The candle-lit hours on porches and balconies were a strange mix of an ethereal kind of intimacy, beckoning darkness, and thoughts that retreated from both sunlight and electric lights.

You could do nothing useful during those hours. There was no TV or radio. Reading was difficult. Candle-lit meals tended to be either quick, simple affairs whipped up in semi-darkness, or leftovers. Families who turned the blacked-out evenings into family time generally sat out on the porch. Adults would use the time to tell family stories to children. Teenagers and some couples would stroll up and down the street, occasionally stopping to chat with neighbors. Younger kids would run around squealing and playing, seemingly possessed by the strange euphoria-inducing forces leaking in from another world. Or they would huddle together and try to scare each other with ghost stories.

Even back then, having never experienced cold northern climates, I instinctively knew that the Scottish word fey, born of cold foggy highlands, and which I had only encountered in books, was somehow the right word for the charged pre-Monsoon summer air around me."

***

To a great extent, our existence is framed by the kinds of light that illuminate it. The work/life balance is really a sunlight/electricity balance. Half our waking hours are framed by sunlight, the other half by electric lighting.

If the medium is the message, the message of sunlight is survival and work. Despite emerging lore around hacker all-nighters and owl-work, we are not a nocturnal species, or anywhere close to becoming one. We conduct our affairs in the harsh and unforgiving light of the sun. Sunlight is much too valuable to waste on non-essentials, so it is a light that keeps our mind on practical details. Even apparent leisure activities have a plugged-in-and-present quality to them, with a clearly definable value proposition that can be linked to survival. We save our slow strolls for sunrises and sunsets. Exercise in broad daylight is vigorous and energetic; for health.

The message of electricity-powered evenings on the other hand, is one of active and practical reflection, of learning from our own lives and the lives of others, through television and the Internet in particular. We review our own game-tapes, in solitude or in conversation. We take in and discuss news of distant wars and local traffic accidents, integrating them into the backdrop of our own stories.

Where work leaks into the night, it tends to be the heroic component. Programming or writing sessions driven by the steady energy of flow conditions. Or heavy-lift efforts to conquer piled-up mountains of tax paperwork. The banalities of life — calling customer support, going to the post office, holding meetings — those are for sunlight hours.

But candlelight hours enforced by blackouts are neither sunlit nor electrically lit. Candlelight is a light of disconnection and isolation; of forced intimacy and reflections easily avoided at other times. Of forced sensory presence in the here-now, rather than a sought-out and self-imposed retreat from life.

It is the difference being wanting to learn to swim and being dumped unceremoniously into the deep end. For adults unused to radical disconnection, candlelight can bring forth more lurking horrors than the supernatural imaginings of children.

Such people, unable to handle ascetic slowness for even a couple of hours, buy generators."



"I learned recently that our ancestors did not sleep as we did. Before street-lighting (first oil and gas, then electric) became common in the 1800s, apparently humans tended to sleep in two sessions, eight hours spread across two sessions within a twelve hour period between sunset and sunrise. Between first and second sleep, people apparently lived a third life that was distinct from the work of daylight between dawn and dusk, and the life of evenings until first bed-time.

I suspect the period between first and second sleep was something like what we experience today during blackouts. The link above mentions several interesting things about the period, and references a few books I plan to read."



"Stillness is the third space between spaces of action and reflection. A space that vanishes if life becomes too frictionless and reliably provisioned."



"Stillness is the other side of sacredness, the experience and contemplation of transience, letting go and irreversible loss. The practice of accommodating emptiness. In the presence of the demons who represent the work of our lives that must be done before we are done."



"There is a new kind of stillness creeping back into our lives. The dim glow of smartphone screens is more like candle light than electricity or sunlight. It is a warm bubble of connected hyper-intimacy we carry around with us through both days and evenings.

Sometimes, when I look up from my smartphone and unplug momentarily from Facebook and Twitter, I get the same sense of unreal other-worldliness that I used to get looking out at the urban landscape of a blackout.

Darkness is a relative thing after all. Even the brightest-lit scene seems dark when you become sensitized to what you’re not seeing. Walking about, glancing up from the small screen, I realize that I am surrounded by darkness. People whose lives are opaque to me. Trees I know nothing about until I try to identify them on Wikipedia. Docked ships with invisible stories attached, which I cannot see unless I look up a ship-tracking site. And somewhere in the universe of unexplored information, lurking demons of our digital selves who can wander invisibly even in the brightest sunlight, stewards of debts we did not know we were accumulating.

The demons of our smartphone lights are perhaps more powerful than the demons of candle light. Because until recently, we weren’t even aware they existed.

Now we do. We know they’re out there. We know they represent unrecognized debts to ourselves. More work-of-life items for our to-do lists. And that, I suppose, is what makes the age of the Internet a new kind of enlightenment.

The light of smartphones is a weak one today. It is not always on or all-powerful in relation to the universe of digital information, the way electric lighting is in relation to physical darkness. Using a smartphone feels like using a flashlight during a blackout. I often hop back and forth between offline and online worlds, googling birds and ships I spot, restaurants I walk by. Soon, I suppose, I’ll learn more about people I see through my AR glasses, whenever those become cheap enough for me to buy. Those will perhaps be the electric bulbs of our time, replacing the smartphone candles we stumble about with today.

Much of the darkness being lifted today only reveals a world of new banalities. But hidden among those there are new debts to fill moments of stillness.

When augmented reality finally hits our world in earnest, another layer of darkness will be peeled away. Demons that lurk today in the darkness of smartphone-level connectedness will retreat.

And we will come to cherish newer kinds of unexpected and unscheduled darkness."
death  darkness  light  venkateshrao  2014  candlelight  history  energy  electricity  sleep  community  technology  stillness  blackouts  consciousness  slow 
march 2014 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read