Yesterday I couldn’t find my brother and I panicked like a child. As he was a computer programmer before he became a bicycle repairman, his digital footprint was so huge and suddenly it was no more. He was gone from the web without a trace.
Honestly a better sister would have noticed sooner. I only saw it when I looked for him ten days later.
He had simply done the New Year’s thing and unplugged from the world, but luckily one cannot quite do that fully or at least he didn’t. One of my increasingly desperate emails hit his Gmail and he responded laconically but promptly this morning.
“It’s good to hear from you. Most of my communication these days is via my 1940 Remington typewriter or postcards. I’ve scaled back my electronic interactions to the minimum in an attempt to regain what little attention span I once had.”
I understand this impulse. Heck I’m drafting this article in longhand and not just because my phone is nearly dead. Although in large measure what drained the battery today is what sucks it dry every day; my Twitter addiction.
It is possible to live your life these days so utterly online that reality does not seem quite real. Did you really even eat dinner if you didn’t post the photo? If you don’t run a poll on where your visiting sister-in-law will get mashed potatoes what joy will you get out of it?
My brother has in many ways the right idea. John Lennon sang to his son “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Framing the perfect shot to show your followers the wonderful sunset may cause you to miss the deer emerging from the trees entirely.
When my brother left home I was a child and he was my world. Fifteen when I was born, he took this kid under his wing and showed her how the world worked. He never dumbed down an explanation, never evaded a question. He taught me how to play chess and in many ways how to think.
Although we took divergent paths politically, they stem from the same weary world view. It just makes me more angry and ready to fight, while it makes him resigned to the flawed world as it is.
I remember his looking down at me, as I fought the tears that still come at the memory of his leaving. I never did emote well and he said “Hey, you can have all this stuff. The books everything. It’s all yours.”
One of those things was an old typewriter. He found it in the dump and brought it home. It was a lovely thing like something Hemingway might have toted about.
One time he back came on a visit and asked me about it with some hesitation. He thought I might have tossed it. I laughed and brought it to him.
This is how I see him now, sitting in front of its reassuring solidity. The keys are probably sticky. Perhaps the space bar doesn’t work as well as he would like.
That’s reality though, far more solid and permanent than tweets tossed into the ether of cyberspace.
I don’t for the life of me know how he’ll find typewriter ribbons, but I trust him to figure it out, as he trusts me to. The Petersons are at bottom stubborn and persistent people. We mean what we say.
My guess is that his unplugging is permanent. Someday perhaps his little sister will again tag-along behind him.