On Blogging in Nature

I was on my way back from the Loop today, and thought it might be fun to “blog” (with noted objections to making the term a verb) on the Midway a bit before going home… mostly because I knew the University wireless network extended out on this grassy plain, but mostly because it would be fun to “blog in nature.”  Insofar as the Midway can be considered “nature,” of course, given that it’s a stretch of grass between the two lanes (well four lanes) of a major boulevard.

Anyway, I thought I would jot down tap down these thoughts.  When I thought about it, “jot down” doesn’t seem to apply to typing.  Tap down, tap out, maybe even flick down (to imply a sort of careless or quick action, versus a studied electronic equivalent of formal composition).  Make sense?

Anyway (again), it seems odd to be using a computer outside, in a problematic incarnation of nature.  First, one can hardly read the screen – I observed someone texting in Millennium Park, by the way, hunched over and squinting to read the screen, while sitting in the bright sunlight.  Odd.  Even in the shade, however, the computer screen (at maximum brightness) is only a dull grey picture of contrasts, legible but not overly so.  And I suspect even if it weren’t so sunny, it would be difficult.  It is, perhaps, the reverse problem of reading paper text in high-sunlight conditions… the white of the paper is blinding, and you get eyestrain just as you would in a very low-light environment.

Second, focusing on the computer – performing the most artificial task of tapping keys which are converted into electricity which appear as the arbitrary symbols of language (characters, words, sentences) but which don’t really materially exist – I almost lose sight of everything else around me.  The grass, the sun, the bird poop on the bench, the people out enjoying the weather, the cars going by.  So focused am I on this plastic and metal tablet that I can feel and hear, but only peripherally experience, the environment.

Third, the “fear factor” – what if a bug crawls into the keyboard?  What if it suddenly starts raining?  What if a bird poops on the speakers?  What if the sun is damaging it as I type?  Is it too cold, or too warm, for the computer?  If you really want to know how vulnerable your computer is, you don’t even need to drop it or pour something on it or hit it with a book – just set it down on the grass and wait for the paranoia.  Or don’t even set it down (mine is safely in my lap) but start thinking about pollen in the air.  It’s funny to think how these oh-so-portable machines are really only portable, or at least what we think of as “safe,” within other artificial/structured environments… even the coffee shop presents worries, with the possibility of spillage, crumb-age, or looking-the-other-way-and-getting-stolen-age.  (See that “What now?” commercial for an example of the latter).

Fourth, its dependence for power.  My battery life is probably about 1.5 hours right now – with the screen at maximum brightness, the wireless card working, and running a couple other things in the background.  Although laptops are obviously more readily weaned off their power cords than desktops, and increasingly so (compare a 9-hour battery on my friend’s 2006 laptop to mine, a 2004, to another’s which is *maybe* 2 hours if you don’t let it do anything), this thing only has so long it can be free of its connection to the “inside” world.  Really, though, laptops are amazing little entities – although I usually have 5 plugs in mine (power, audio to speakers, mouse, internet cable, and printer) it can easily exist without any of them, and without 4 of them indefinitely.  Still, though, once the power is gone it’s a rather useless grey and black box.

And finally, rounding out my top 5 (so to speak), blogging in nature requires a great deal more filtering of outside stimuli.  This is related to the point about visual, but I think more significant.  While there are certainly stimuli at my desk – the other things on the desk, whether the temperature is noticeably uncomfortable, sounds from outside the window, etc. – they seem amplified here, perhaps because there is a slightly different mode of being outside than inside.  The green of the grass, the dandelion pods, the proximity of cars (sometimes quite loud ones), the trains going by, the other people outside playing and running and sitting and biking, the warm sun but rather chilly wind (and their alternating in quick succession), and the fresh-spring smell… perhaps they seem like amplified stimuli because I am consciously noticing them, but nevertheless it makes the whole act of blogging outside seem that much sillier… why bother with the computer when I could just take a nice walk and enjoy these last hours of daylight?

And on that note, I think I’ll get to it.


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