As social networks move from the public space to private, I’m spending more time in Slack with the group of internet weirdos I met at XOXO last year. The festival’s tagline is “for independent artists who live and work online.” That first verb is the important one.
The internet and I grew up together. It moved into our living room when I was 14. I learned how to be a writer in public. I taught myself code. All of my friends live inside these wires.
The XOXO book club is reading HOW TO DO NOTHING by Jenny Odell, who will be a speaker at the festival. It’s a compelling read; I finished it in three days. Where many of us who live on the internet have been searching, frantically, increasingly, for ways to disconnect, to runaway to the mountains, to live off the land, Odell argues for the opposite. The solution to fixing what the internet has done to our brains, she writes, is the reconnect with the world. Not the world inside the wires, but the world of the trees, the flowers, the birds. (Especially the birds, Odell would say.)
It’s not surprising Odell grew up in California. For many of us on the west coast, a hike in the woods is the answer to all our problems. (Add a thermos of tea, and I’m set.) Before I read this book, I might’ve told you I already know how to do nothing. Halfway through this book, I would’ve said I already know I’m surrounded by cedars, honeybees, and crows. And yet, immediately after I finished reading, I downloaded her suggested iNaturalist app and took photos of the trees on my block, the wildflowers growing in the unlandscaped lot, and the weeds forcing their way through the cracks in the pavement.
For a few years now, perhaps since I moved to White Rock in 2015, I have heard a different bird call, in between the crows and seagulls I know. It sounded, to me, like the cliché of a dove. I was lucky to catch glimpses, enough to know it was more than one bird, and grey, but not a gull. I didn’t even know if doves were wild in this area. I imagined they had been a pair, someone’s pets, escaped or set loose.
And then I saw them this afternoon, in a quiet unmoving moment, around the corner from my house.
Zooming in as far as I could, I managed a few blurry frames, even as the two birds ignored me, seemingly unbothered. They’ve lived in this neighbourhood a long time; I’m sure they know me, perhaps better than I know them.
Once I was home (and back on wifi), I uploaded my photo to iNaturalist, eager for an identification. Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto). But even better, someone else has noticed them, too.
My story is not unique. An introverted girl who didn’t have much in common with the kids she called friends, I found others like me on the internet. I won’t give them up, no matter how much the people with money try to destroy our networks. We made the internet once; we can make it again.
Remember: if you noticed something cool, someone else has noticed it, too. They’d probably love to chat.