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Fmail or Fountain Pen? The Imperative to Unplug and Slow Down

Try using a fountain pen instead of Fmail every now and then. Feel the nicely weighted barrel in your hand, run your fingers over a smooth, clean piece of piece of paper, and write down thoughts and feelings to share with a friend.
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Delightfully, deliciously, but perhaps not surprisingly, my recent Twitter and Facebook posts about putting down your smartphone and picking up a fountain pen instead coincided with Facebook's announcement of their new mail program, Fmail. Facebook's chess move is primarily aimed at increasing their revenue share by garnering more eyeballs (you'll spend more time on the site) and has the stated purpose of streamlining, facilitating, and quickening your online interactions. This move fits in perfectly with the ongoing trend of electronic and web-based communication/social networking technology by speeding up your life, reducing your "face time" with others, and taking you as far as possible from an awareness of your physical environs and body in favor of that of your cyberspace avatar.

Where will this convergence of technology and behavior lead? It's an interesting question, with many active minds weighing in. One model has us losing our individuality in favor of an Internet-facilitated worldwide supermind, something I've mentioned in other posts. Another has us being organically melded to silicon, titanium and plastics until the human being of today are gone and we become computers capable of realizing the true purpose of the universe, an idea seen in the novel "The Einstein Enigma" and elsewhere. Faster and faster we'll spin, blipping from one event to another, never physically touching each other, processing the data of our lives at greater and greater rates until we come up with new syntheses never before imagined, much less achieved.

It's science fiction now, this notion of the human computer being capable of god-like feats of intellect, but just like replacement eyeballs and ears and kidneys and hearts, it's on the horizon, at least for those who can afford it. A certain generation and a certain type of person finds refuge in this prospect, because, as natural as it may be, death sucks, and real relationships are hard work. They see the move toward the cyberhuman as a great relief, and tend to post comments about Fmail and other similar developments that sound like "Keep complaining. We don't mind. Soon all of you fuddy-duddys who treasure organic life and drinking lattés with each other will be gone. Hi Ho, Silver and into the silicon future we go!"

There is, of course, another evolutionary path, and for folks who, like me, suspect technology for its own sake (particularly when the direction of technological evolution is profit-based, costs us our privacy, and is driven by the agenda of other folks who would have us do what they wish us to do) it's a more agreeable, if not easier, option. I'm talking about the mind/body path to the next level of humanity, the studied cultivation of awareness that can lead both to a better planet (seeing things more fully and clearly, we simply can't continue to treat each other and our environment the way we now do) and to more fulfilled lives. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, and other artistic practices can lead us in this direction, and for an ever-increasing number of people they do.

It's tempting to see this as purely a function of age, but I believe it's more than that. Regardless of generational influences, some folks seem to simply be "wired" one way whilst others are wired another. There will always be some folks who, like the intellectuals of China's fifth-century Southern dynasties, emerge from a legacy of simple pictography to discover the beauty and satisfaction in elegant calligraphy, content and phrasing, but perhaps it's time for the pendulum to swing back this way for all of us. It's not a bad idea to consciously slow down and rebel against the speed and pressures of modern life, is it? Instead of texting how about engaging communication as a mind/body practice precisely because such practices help us savor life instead of rush through it. Perhaps, considering how we know it all ends, it would be better to slow down and take in the view rather than dash madly for the cliff, all those toys of yours clutched desperately to your chest as you fall.

Which path is for you? Do you want to take control of your own life sometime before speed-and-greed eat you alive, or do you want to stay on the train and wait for a silicon brain and a titanium heart? Perhaps you think you know, perhaps you don't. Either way, even though it's easier, try using a fountain pen instead of Fmail every now and then. Take a moment, unscrew the cap, feel the nicely weighted barrel in your hand, run your fingers over a smooth, clean piece of piece of paper, and write down thoughts and feelings to share with a friend. Feel the fine grit of the surface of the paper as the nib runs over it, and appreciate the flow of the tiny, beautiful, blue river of ink. Carefully consider what you want to say, because there is no back button and no deleting the paragraph, either. Notice how your breathing slows and your muscles relax and your mind becomes aware of the buzzing of the refrigerator and the wailing of the cat outside and the chirp of birds and the sound of wind at the window and the dull thud of your heartbeat. When you're done, post your letter in snail mail and go meet someone for tea.