"I relish technology's scope, reach, novelty, and remedies. But it's also full of alluring brain closets, in which the brain may be well occupied but has lost touch with the body, lost the intimacy of the senses, lost a visceral sense of being one life form among many on a delicately balanced planet. A big challenge for us in the Anthropocene will be reclaiming that sense of presence. Not to forgo high-speed digital life, but balance it with slow hours of just being outside, surrounded by nature, and watching what happens next.
"Because something wonderful always happens. When a sense of presence steals up the bones, one enters a mental state where needling worries soften, careers slow their cantering, and the imaginary line between us and the rest of nature dissolves. Then for whole moments one may see nothing but snow, gathering thick and wet along the limbs of an old magnolia. Or, indoors, one may watch how a vase full of tulips, whose genes have traveled eons and silk roads, arch their spumoni-colored ruffles and nod gently when the furnace gusts. On the periodic table of the heart, somewhere beween wonderon and unattainium, lies presence, which one doesn't so much take as steep in, like a romance, and without which one can live just fine, but not thrive. Those sensory bridges need to stay sharp, not just for our physical survival, but so we feel fully engaged and alive.
"A digital identity in a digital landscape figures indelibly in our reminted sense of self. Electronic work and dreams fuel most people's lives, education, and careers. Kindness, generosity, bullying, greed, and malice all blink across our devices and survive like extremophiles on invisible nets. Sometimes, still human but mentally fused with our technologies, we no longer feel compatible with the old environment, when nature seemed truly natural. To use an antique metaphor, the plug and socket no longer fit snugly. We've grown too large, and there's no shrinking back. Instead, so that we don't feel like we're falling off the planet, we're revising and redefining nature. That includes using the Internet as we do our other favorite tools, as a way to extend our sense of self. A rake becomes an extension of one's arm. The Internet becomes an extension of one's personality and brainpower, an untethered way to move commerce and other physical objects through space, a universal diary, a stew of our species' worries, a hippocampus of our shared memories. Could it ever become conscious? It's already the sum of our daily cogitations and desires, a powerful ghost that can not only haunt with aplomb but rabble-rouse, wheel and deal, focus obsessively, pontificate on all topics, speak in all tongues, further romance, dialogue with itself, act decisively, mumble numerically, and banter between computers until the cows come home. Then find someone to milk the cows.
"It's been suggested that we really have two selves now, the physical one and a second self that's always present in our absence — an online self we also have to groom and maintain, a self people can respond to even when we're not available. As a result everyone goes through two adolescences on the jagged and painfully exposed road to a sense of identity.
"Surely we can inhabit both worlds with poise, dividing our time between the real and the virtual. Ideally, we won't sacrifice one for the other. We'll play outside and visit parks and wilds on foot, and also enjoy technological nature as a mental seasoning, turning to it for what it does best: illuminate all the hidden and mysterious facets of nature we can't experience or fathom on our own."