I've been getting dumber as I get older but I’m sort of leaning into it. It’s been a gradual process. I’ve had time to adjust.
My commute to my first real office job involved a 20-minute walk through Harvard Square. With one of my first paychecks I bought a DISCMAN (!) so I could listen to music on my walk. (Discmans had existed for a while by then but I had never owned one. MP3s and MP3 players and portable cellular devices were still a few years away.) I remember emailing my friend Cheryl about a week later and telling her my fear that this was going to make me dumber. What if listening to music while I walked wasn’t giving my life a soundtrack so much as it was drowning out my thoughts. Like was there some under-appreciated value to being along with my thoughts. She was like “…Listening to music does not make you dumber.”
Anyways it’s 20+ years later and by just about any objective measure I am dumber now than I was then. But yeah it wasn’t “listening to music on my walk to work” as much as it was “years of drowning my brain in things happening online.” And partially this (like everything) is glazed in a post-pandemic uncertainty. A vague sense that since quarantine my brain just doesn’t work like it used to. Not that I was ever Joe Brainiac but didn’t I feel sharper, quicker, more astute, at one point? The references and connections I needed to make, the memories, the faces, the names, seemed a littler closer to the edge of my fingertips. Now I can barely finish this thought. Have I written enough for this to be relatable to someone or do I have to keep typing about this.
Marie Howe: Even as I write these words I am planning / to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.
I’m trying to experiment with what I need or don’t need, online, on my phone, in my day/life/whatever. Deleting apps, noticing the muscle memory of my search for them. A working hypothesis: having every bit of information so easily searchable means I retain none of it. There’s no reason to! I can look it up again later. Someone on a show said a word I didn’t know and I knew as soon as I read the definition it would never stick in my head. And the fact that I can’t even remember what the word was, what the show was, how many days ago this happened, does any of that matter?
Same with youtube, same with podcasts. What if I go on my dumb little walks and DON’T listen to a podcast. Will my life be objectively better? Will I gain back a few IQ points? Are there thoughts, ideas, connections in my brain just waiting to rush back? I mean 20 years of this website suggest probably not.
Mary-Kim Arnold: It’s been difficult to sustain a thought for very long.
Me: why would you even want to sustain a thought? PASS
Anyways. No point here, big shocker. I’m not going to turn into an Internet Bad person. Realistically no one I’m close to would even notice my dropping a few IQ points. I’m just trying to engage with it. Being mindful of the things that keep me alive: antidepressants, meditation, love, exercise, writing, making music, my cat. Being just online enough to connect with friends, be in community with others, but not so online that I lose track of…something. Me. A way back. Fine fucking line. Almost invisible.