The rush of contact with the external world is a strange and powerful thing. As a kid, I charged the front door when I heard the metallic rustle of paper sliding through the mail slot onto the welcome mat. Every morning I dripped milky cereal onto the pages of The Boston Globe, and in the late afternoon I peered out the dining room window through curtains and shrubs, watching for The Newburyport Daily News to land on the front walk. I wasn’t so interested in world events or local politics, and I barely received any mail, ever. (Still don’t, and open the junk I do get about once per month, tops.) But those small doses of new information—carrying the possibility for intrigue, surprise, news from near or far—have been a pleasing and relatively harmless addiction all my life.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and I find myself—we all find ourselves—in a world where the high of knowing new things no longer occurs just two or three times a day. Now instead of straining my ears for the mailman’s steps on the porch, I’m flicking my eyes to check the parenthesized number at the top of my Gmail browser, anticipating the next dinner invitation, news alert, or blowout sale. Rarely do I receive any messages that touch or change my life in any profound way. But the checking is compulsive, and it’s not just my email. It’s my work email, and my Facebook account, and my Instagram feed, and the litany of news sites and blogs that I peruse religiously.
So in the time since I wrote that last sentence, I’ve Gchatted with my sister about her new kitten. I’ve exchanged emoticon-riddled iMessages with my mother. I’ve gotten two emails, one Trop-related, one about an Amazon sale. Admitting this out loud in Arial typeface makes me think that I could probably be better at many things if not for the glut.