Words words words—colliding, rebounding, recoiling. Too many with too little time, stretching on and on, chains and chains of chains, the structure fraying and disintegrating into a boundless field of meaningless data. It becomes a full-time job, sifting through this mass, curating the heap, anthologizing the clutter. Surfaces and forms without content, groundless symbols, the absence not only of sense but of nonsense too, pure static, white noise. We function through automated experience, barely registering the present input as we hurtle on to the next thing, driven by this algorithmic necessity that consistently falls short of desire, and so also its satisfaction. Our word processors are us, our attention cursory, ticking from character to character, string to string, list to list. Knowledge fragments into bits and recombines into something we can process, something we can consume, and so we also become a part of the stream.
I write this because I’m stalled, my ideas splintered. I began a long project of non-fiction, but somewhere—really, multiple somewheres—along the way I became distracted and derailed, and every time I try to return to my task I find myself unable to do so. I can locate the impetus for my writing in time, but to access that moment and its respective mental state has proven difficult. There is a disconnect I simply cannot overcome. I am too far downstream.
Our texts are embedded in time, our concepts born of events—to return to a particular text, a particular concept, is to disrupt time’s flow. When I read I experience a similar disruption, a displacement in time. This displacement is part of the power of the text as a temporal object, a quality of the text as art. But when I write, and the act of writing spans days and weeks, even months or years, the effort required to sit down and return, to displace myself, compounds. My mental state has changed, but the text has remained where I left it, mid-thought, without closure. I feel my mind short-circuit.
I cannot help but sense that this is symptomatic of our word-processor epistemology. Temporality is nothing new. But sustained cognition? This is novel. Or no—not novel, but out-of-mode. As our methods of time-keeping become ever more precise, our schedules ever more full, our lives ever more segmented, the continuation of any given mental state requires ever more exertion. To pursue an idea to its end often takes longer than our click-baited attention spans can handle. We find ourselves conditioned by our media, burdened by our queues and watch lists, living run-on lives.
But this is not to proclaim doom upon our culture, at least not here. Media, like time, is nothing new. Media simply changes. And so the question I find myself considering is how to recondition myself, or rather, how to condition the media that I experience and produce, instead of being conditioned by it. A reimagining is required, a reconceptualization, of what it means to be a mediated people living in a mediated world. Media is artefactual, produced, contingent. To see media reimagined, we must recognize this contingency and refuse to be complacent, to engage and experience it with a wakeful mind and an attentive eye, to not accept without question what is put before us. We cannot keep streaming, keep consuming. We cannot keep adding commas. We—I—need to pause, to let the moments coalesce and the rush of time crystallize into a totality. We need to dwell and allow our fragmented minds to return to us, ready to embrace whatever this present moment holds.