Chilling in the Age of Disruption
Earlier this winter, around New Year's, my family spent a couple of weeks in the Sierra Nevada near Truckee, California. We'd planned to ski and board to exhaustion, but the sky didn't cooperate. With plenty of cold but no snow, it was kinda like being snowbound.
To pass time, we read, talked, baked, solved puzzles (jigsaw, crossword, cosmic), and played games (Scrabble, no-limit Texas Hold 'Em, Who Gets to Do the Dishes?).
One member of our ever-changing cohort of family and friends became obsessed with the Donner Party, that group of pioneers who, in 1846, headed for California by wagon train but became mired in snow and catastrophe just a few miles from where we were staying. Debbie visited the Donner Memorial State Park, read the grim diaries of those who perished and those who survived, and used her artist's imagination to concoct an array of theories about what the tragedy says about the fuzzy overlap of human nature and nature nature.
I'm not among those who saw the remarkable lack of snow in the Sierra Nevada early this winter as a sure sign of the beginning of the end for our species. Nor am I on board with those who believe that the Mayan calendar predicts that this year, 2012, will mark our planet's final spin through the solar system. I put more faith in the Sierra Club's calendars, which, I happen to know, are already in the works through 2014.
This is not to say that we optimists think we can ignore the evidence that we've entered the Age of Disruption—meteorological and technological.
During our self-imposed sequestration, "The Joy of Quiet," an essay by Pico Iyer, surfaced in the New York Times. Iyer, who claims he's never used Facebook, noted that in this time of information overload, people of all ages are increasingly desperate to unplug, even paying premium rates at resorts that eschew TVs and Internet connections. Yes, I encountered the piece on Facebook (and later tweeted it), but nonetheless I found its semi-Luddite sentiments soothing.
One chilly afternoon during our stay in the Sierra, I sat on a trailside cedar stump making calls from my iPhone, thinking about what such power would have meant to the Donners, whose dubious decisions led to crisis and inspired some to expand their culinary palates. As I put the phone back in my jacket, quiet descended, and I pondered how much we, the technologically empowered, might gain from more opportunity to smell moist pine duff, listen to wind rustle the boughs of centuries-old junipers, see water pulse through fractured slabs of ice. Perhaps our synapses would realign with our genuine place in nature, our survival instincts would kick in, and we'd think more clearly about how to solve the climatic fix we're in. —Bob Sipchen, editor in chief