Portals

“For what it’s worth, I believe you,” the officer said, “but our hands are tied. We can’t do anything. Look, I can be upfront with you because nobody will believe any of this. We’ve already investigated these things and saw the same sort of stuff as you. One of our men committed suicide after seeing what he saw. But the district attorney thinks it’s bullshit, and even if she didn’t, there’s no way in hell we could convince a jury that this stuff is real.”

The officer was right, of course. I could go to the media, but any respectable journalist would laugh in my face. It was just too incredible, like the visions of a raving madman.

I myself had never believed in the portals. Only the gullible, the superstitious, the overly religious types could believe in that stuff. I preferred to stay grounded in reality. If it wasn’t reported in the New York Times, and if there wasn’t a scientific consensus behind it, it couldn’t be real. Until one February morning my friend took me to meet a shaman somewhere out in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

I know what you’re thinking. It was some cheap parlor trick. That’s what I thought, too, when the shaman first opened one of the portals, disappeared through it, and came back a few moments later. If I was at a loss to explain how he did that, much less could I explain how I was able to enter the portal myself afterward. I found myself in a jungle. I have no idea where it was, whether in South America, or China, or some other world. I think it must have been India, though, based on the appearance of the man over there and the accent of his broken English.

The man must have been some sort of shaman, too. He had the appearance of one of those Hindu ascetics who spend their days in meditation and eat little, if anything. We didn’t talk much, as I wasn’t there for more than a minute or so. He said he was a friend of the shaman, and that he was there to make sure I didn’t become disoriented and wander off, but that I made it back.

I walked into the portal a skeptic, but I came out a believer, even though I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I was beginning to believe. The shaman showed me and my friend how to open the portals. It was a simple ritual, which I won’t describe here because I’ve come to realize the danger of these portals and their attractiveness to the wrong sort of people. He warned us to be careful, to never step into a portal we weren’t familiar with without someone who was familiar with it.

“There are many portals that nobody knows where they go to,” he explained, “because nobody who entered them has ever come back out.” Caution was warranted where experimentation could prove deadly.

The portals attract a strange sort of people, just the sort who would believe in portals. Neopagans, witches, hippies, and others who don’t quite fit in normal society. Many of them can’t open the portals and have never seen them in actual use. Only the true believers can actually open them.

I later found out that many don’t even need the ritual. It’s just a crutch for those of us who are inexperienced and awkward in these matters. It helps us to focus our spiritual energies, but it can be done with just some concentration as long as the person opening the portal doesn’t doubt his ability to do so.

The portals themselves can be found just about anywhere. People say that their locations were sacred sites to the ancient peoples. There must have been much more communication across cultures in the ancient world than we have imagined, maybe even communication across worlds. Some people have said that Buddhist missionaries from China visited the Americas long before Columbus. If that’s so, they may not have come by boat.

Once you’ve been through a few portals, you begin to recognize where others are. There’s a sort of energy emanating from the earth at those points. You can feel it. I always remembered the shaman’s warning, though, and never went through a portal that nobody I knew was familiar with. I never dared even to open them up.

I have visited every continent, and places that I think were on other planets, in other galaxies, since going through that first portal. I have met many other people, many other portal-hoppers, during that time. There are probably around ten thousand people or so who use the portals, so you end up seeing some of the same people over and over again, and get to know at least a few quite well. We never talked about the dark side of the portal culture, though. Nobody ever told me in direct terms about the malicious people among us.

It’s obvious in retrospect. The portals are just too appealing. If you’re into some shady business, say drugs or even human trafficking, such a quick, invisible travel method is a real boon to your enterprise. Not only that, but the portals to nowhere, that nobody ever returns from, are convenient for making your enemies disappear or disposing of the occasional body.

I’m not naive. I always knew that there was evil in the world. Sure, the human traffickers in particular make me naseous, but it’s the capacity for evil in seemingly ordinary people that really makes my stomach churn. I get sick even thinking about what I saw. I haven’t used a portal again since that day, and I nearly have a panic attack whenever I feel the energy of one nearby.

It was a morning in late winter in Arizona again, this time near Sedona. A couple had brought their young daughter, probably about seven or eight years old, to visit a portal I had not known about. I happened to arrive just after they did. I walked up to an area from where I felt a strange energy, an energy I recognized as indicative of a portal. They were already opening it up when I caught up with them.

It seemed that they were unfamiliar with the portal, too, since they hesitated to enter it. Eventually they convinced their daughter to stick her hand inside. She did. As soon as they heard her scream, they pulled her away, as a bloody stump where her forearm used to be emerged from the portal. A loud argument between the parents ensued, which I heard over the shrieking of the terrified little girl. I only remember two phrases from the chaotic moments, but those two phrases are seared into my memory forever.

“How are we going to explain this?” yelled the father.

“We aren’t,” responded the mother, and shoved her own daughter into the portal.

I was stunned. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say so. I stood in shock, unable to move or comprehend what I had just witnessed. Before I came to my senses, the former parents departed calmly, as if I wasn’t present, and as if their daughter had never existed.

That scene has haunted me since. Days later I worked up the courage to report it to the police, but they said that they could do nothing for me. They’re right. Who is going to believe a crazy story about a couple feeding their daughter to a killer portal in the desert? But it’s true. I saw it with my own eyes, and I can’t unsee it.

If only I knew how to do so, I would destroy every one of those damned portals.

Jack’s Prediction

“Have you read Metamorphoses? The one by Apuleius?”

It was a strange question. Or rather, it was strange that it was posed by Jack, the stereotypical dumb jock. Jack was the embodiment of a cliché: Tall, blonde, blue eyes, a thick, muscular build. Captain of the junior varsity football team. As if to complete the picture, he dated a cheerleader.

“No, of course not. We’re only in second year Latin. We don’t even really get into Caesar until next year, let alone stuff like Apuleius.”

Timothy, who never went by just “Tim,” was the quintessential bookworm, in many ways the opposite of Jack. Lanky and of medium height, bespectacled and disinclined to sports or any sort of athleticism, he spent his time in the library, where he read everything he could: Fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, history and science without the “fiction,” books on computing, books about languages. But everything was in English; as much as he loved Latin, he just wasn’t proficient enough yet to take on classical literature in the original language.

“Oh, I thought that wouldn’t have stopped you from jumping ahead on your own. You really ought to. It’s been a minute since I read it, but it starts out with some witches peeing on some dude, later some old lady tells the story of Cupid and Psyche, and in the end the whole thing turns out to be a missionary tract for Apuleius’s crazy mystery religion.”

“But how do you know all this?”

“I’ll tell you a secret. I started Latin early at home. It’s a guilty pleasure. Just don’t tell anyone. It could hurt my reputation.”

“I would never have guessed.” Timothy told the truth. “What else have you read? What do you like most?”

“Look, the best stuff is from the middle ages. There’s this play called ‘Lydia’ but Lydia is kind of a whore and the whole thing is full of innuendo and double-meanings. I don’t know why people call it the dark ages. They were just like us, except without iPhones. There’s this story about some students who stay at this guy’s house and through some trickery please his wife during the night.”

“Wow.” Timothy was dumbfounded and more than a little embarrassed that the football player seemed to have read much more Latin literature than he had.

“Look,” said Jack, “You’re going to be a classics professor someday. It’s obvious. You’re the best in every class except P.E., but you can’t hide the fact that Latin sparks a different kind of joy in you than the other subjects. When we get into Greek next year, it’ll probably blow your mind. It’s your destiny. And we both know that I’m going to play football, but that doesn’t last forever. After my career in sports, I’m going to become a medievalist. Maybe we’ll even end up teaching in the same university. You’ll teach Caesar and Cicero to your students, maybe Terentius and Plautus for a little fun, and then I’ll blow them away with the middle ages, where they’ll find stuff that’d make Catullus blush.” Jack let out a hearty laugh.

Jack had breathed life into Timothy’s dormant competitive spirit. Even if he would never be a sports champion, he had to excel in something. He couldn’t allow the star athlete of his class to leave him in the dust in the classics. He would hit the books and get caught up in Latin and maybe even get a head start in Greek. Meanwhile, his concept of the dumb jock took a serious hit. His newfound respect for Jack may not have eliminated the stereotype, but from then on he knew that he couldn’t count on it to always hold.

He also hoped that Jack’s prediction would come true.

Memoroj pri Alico

Petro sidiĝis inter la salikoj, ĵetante sian tornistron flanken. Li ankoraŭ ne sentis sin preta ekmarŝi al la supro de la monteto. Profunda spiro eskapis lian buŝon kiam liaj pensoj ekvagis inter la memoroj de Alico. La koro pezis al li.

Alico neniam spertis la saman intereson pri la sovaĝejo, kvankam ŝi sentis pli da magio kaj mistero pri tiaj lokoj. Ŝi iom nevolonte akompanis lin dum liaj ekskursoj, eĉ se ŝi amis la arbojn, la leporojn, la cervojn, la riveretojn, malamis la lacertojn, timegis la serpentojn, kaj timamis la pumojn. Ŝi preskaŭ aŭdis la voĉon de la spiritoj per la vento, vidis viziojn de la estonteco ekde sur la montetoj.

La pli scienceca sinteno de Petro apenaŭ lasis lin kredi pri tiaj aferoj, kiel spiritoj kaj vizioj. Do li reiris hejmen kun ripozita animo, kaj ŝi kun plenigita animo.

Sed tio estis afero de pasintaj tagoj. Petro sentis la mankon de sia plej kara amikino. Eĉ la sovaĝejo ne povis forpreni de li tiun doloron. Viziti ĝin tamen estis la nura rimedo por alfronti la solecon tiel, ke ĝi estas eltenebla dum aliaj tagoj.

Petro stariĝis, sed atendis momenton por streĉi sin antaŭ ol li prenis la tornistron. La tago estis varma, kaj la folioj de la ĉirkaŭaj salikoj movetiĝis en la malforta venteto. La tornistro sentiĝis sufiĉe malpeza en la manoj de Petro, havante nur botelon da akvo, du sandviĉojn, kaj kelkajn biskvitojn. Li fiksis ĝin sur la dorso kaj ekmarŝis.

La subita ŝanĝo de arbaro al dezerto en la kelkcentmetra distanco inter lia ripozejo kaj la komenco de la deklivo surprizis Petron la unuan fojon, ke li venis. Post la jaroj ĝi ekŝajnis tute normala, kvankam li ankoraŭ miris pri ĝi de tempo al tempo. “La naturo estas ja mirinda,” li komentis al si mem. Li spiris la freŝan aeron kaj provis momente forgesi pri Alico.

Sen arboj, la suno frapis pli forte ĉe la padoj sur la deklivo. Ŝtonoj kaj duonsekaj arbustoj donis pli sovaĝan aspekton al la loko, sed pepantaj birdoj kaj eĉ iom da verdeco apud rivereto rompetis la dezertan etoson. Post duonhora marŝado, Petro ne plu aŭdis la aŭtojn sur la ŝoseo. Fekaĵo de kojoto sur la pado estis alia indiko de kaŝita vivo en regiono kiu jen tie jen ĉi tie povis aspekti malvive.

La vento flustris, kvazaŭ voĉo de Alico. Petro memoris ŝiajn rakontojn pri la spiritoj. “Nur stultaĵo,” li pensis, sed imagis ke ŝi iris kun li kiel en la antaŭaj tagoj, plendante ke eĉ en la morto li daŭre kondukas ŝin al la sovaĝejo kiam ili havas multe pli komfortan domon en la urbo. Petro ridis pri la penso.

Li rigardis supren. Neniu nubo makulis la malpenan bluan ĉielon. Alico ŝatis la nubojn, li memoris; ŝi ŝatis mencii iun figuron en jena nubo, jen alia nubo aspektas kiel drako aŭ kato aŭ alia besto. Eble ŝi ne ŝatus la ĉielon hodiaŭ pro la manko de nuboj.

La pado estis facile sekvebla, sed kiam Petro kaj Alico la unuan fojon supreniris la monteton, ili preskaŭ ne atingis la supron pro lacego, kaj atinginte ĝin Petro vomis. Per ofta marŝado ili rapide akiris pli da forto kaj bonegan sanstaton, kaj ne plu suferis kiel la unuan fojon. En postaj ekskursoj Alico ŝatis moke memorigi Petron pri la vomado.

Petro subite haltis. Li sentis, ke lia koro momente ĉesis bati. Du timemaj, danĝerplenaj okuloj proksimume tri metrojn antaŭe rigardis lin ekde sur la pado. La bruna hundeca besto estis iomete malpli granda ol lupo. Petro sciis, ke li devus moviĝi kaj krii laŭte por timigi ĝis fuĝado la beston, sed li ne povis pensi klare. La du rigardis sin reciproke en silento dum almenaŭ duonminuto, kaj poste la kojoto forkuris.

Post la fino de la neatendita renkontiĝo, la resto de la suprenirado okazis trankvile. Post horo kaj duono da promenado, Petro atingis la pinton de la monteto, kie li sidiĝis sur plata ŝtono kaj spektis la ĉirkaŭaĵon. Li malfermis la tornistron, prenis la botelon, kaj trinkis iom da akvo. Ĉar li ankoraŭ ne tre malsatis, li manĝis nur biskviton.

La pejzaĝo estis bela. Je unu flanko estis dezerto, vasta sed ne tute malplena. La ŝtonoj kaj arbustoj malenuigis la scenon, kaj kvankam ili ne alportis multe da koloro, la flavoranĝo plaĉe kontrastis kun la bluo de la ĉielo. Preskaŭ tute mankis kaktoj, krom kelkaj opuntioj apud partoj de la pado per kiu Petro alvenis tien. “Homoj plantis ilin,” oni iam diris al li, “Ili ne nature kreskas ĉi tie.”

Je la alia flanko Petro povis vidi la arbarecan regionon el kiu li venis. La ŝoseo estis nur rekta, maldika, nigra linio, kiu trapasis la verdon. Ĉi-flanke estis salikoj, sed pli norde troviĝis pinoj, kaj grizblankaj montoj etendis supren el la horizonto, kvazaŭ segilo tranĉanta la ĉielon.

Petro suspiris. La streĉa momento kun la kojoto forgesigis lin pri Alico dum kelkaj momentoj, sed nun li ekpensis, ke li vere sentas ŝian ĉeeston malgraŭ lia malemo kredi pri fantomoj kaj aliaj superstiĉoj. “Eble vi pravis,” li pensis, kvazaŭ li babilis kun ŝi. “Aŭ almenaŭ mi ekkomprenas vin.”

“Vi mankas al mi.” Larmoj ekaperis sur la okuloj, malgraŭ lia volo regi sin.

Li sentis ian respondon, kvankam li ne povis vortigi ĝin. Kontraŭ sia naturo li babilis dum preskaŭ duonhoro kun la nevidebla ombro de sia amikino. Tiam li ekstaris por reiri al sia aŭto antaŭ la mallumiĝo de la vespero.

Dum la irado malsupren, li imagis voĉojn en la vento. “Mi ekfreneziĝas,” li diris al si mem, sed akceptis tion. Tiu stranga eco de lia iama amikino nun estis parto de li.

La malsuprenirado estis trankvila, sen kojotoj, sen pumoj aŭ aliaj timigaj bestoj. Nur cervo videblis en la distanco dum parto de la promeno, kaj kuniklo troviĝis pli proksime, sed tuj forkuris, kiam li eniris la arbaron. Ankoraŭ ne noktiĝis, do li malrapidigis la paŝojn por ĝui la lokon iomete pli longe. Tamen, la sonoj de iu kaj alia aŭto sur la ŝoseo interrompantaj la mallaŭtajn sonojn de la naturo de tempo al tempo ne lasis lin tute perdiĝi en la trankvila etoso.

La doloro ne malaperis, sed nun ĝi estis eltenebla.

The Bunker

“Pull harder!” exclaimed Tim, as he and Carlos tugged on the flat, round piece of metal. Just enough faded paint remained among the rust to reveal that it once was green and probably neatly camouflaged among the tall weeds and grass that fluttered this way and that in the light breeze. The old oaks were too few to call the place “woods,” but they strained upward from the ground, then outward, at random intervals, making it apparent that this place was outside the city, even if just barely. Their branches and leaves were too proud to join the herbs on the ground in their dance, so instead they sat motionless as if suspended, timeless, in empty space beyond the edge of the universe.

To Tim and Carlos, it was the edge of the universe. They had skipped class, not for the first time, and slipped into a steam tunnel they had found the week prior. The tunnel allowed them to avoid the hall monitors and the assistant principal up to a place near the playground. Their chosen exit was conveniently situated near a part of the fence that they called their “secret exit.” The fence was a series of equidistant metal posts with a rail near the top, and another rail near the bottom. At the secret exit, one of the posts was not evenly spaced, leaving just enough room for the kids to squeeze through. Having reached the outside of their scholarly prison, they made way to the uncharted territory just outside the city limits, which provided the dual benefits of a lack of truancy officers and undiscovered treasures like whatever the round piece of metal hid.

It didn’t budge. A new strategy was needed.

“If only we were near my house,” lamented Carlos. “I could get us the crowbar from my dad’s toolbox.”

“Too risky,” Tim replied, “We’d get caught. But there must be something around here we can use as a lever to pry it open. Look around.”

The two kids scoured the area, looking for anything that might be requisitioned as a lever to pry open the metal cover. Some tree branches could be found scattered here and there on the ground, but Tim quickly wrote them off as too thin and flimsy, and Carlos agreed. Something firmer would be needed. Either a thicker branch, or…

“I got it!” yelled Carlos. “The farmhouse! There must be something we can use in there!”

About half a mile toward town, only a couple hundred yards from the last city block, stood an old abandoned shack. The boys, unaware of whatever purpose it had once served, had dubbed it “the farmhouse.” Inside was a single large room, or at least no interior walls had been left. The room was empty, having been ransacked decades earlier, except for a broken table and a couple of untrustworthy chairs, and, more relevant to the purposes of the moment, some two-by-fours and other rubbish strewn across the floor.

Tim didn’t need to respond. A brief glance between the boys communicated the necessary agreement, and they were off in a gallop toward the farmhouse. Not much more than three minutes had passed when the informal half mile race was over. Carlos arrived just moments before Tim, and the boys passed through the doorless doorway into the one and only room of the farmhouse. Carlos immediately grabbed one of the two-by-fours lying on the floor, while Tim looked around a bit before deciding on an iron rod that was probably once part of a gate or a fence. The boys walked their cargo back to the field with the mysterious metal lid, their chatter along the way full of speculation about the secrets it hid.

“There must be a buried treasure hidden underneath,” asserted Carlos, whose primary goal in life had always centered around searching for hidden treasure. At least ever since he saw a treasure map complete with ‘X’ marking the spot in a book about pirates, even before he could read.

Tim, always more practical, replied that it almost certainly covered some secret alien technology that the government had hidden many years ago, but forgot about.

The conversation continued along those lines for the fifteen-or-so minutes that it took to get back to the field and the metal circle.

Upon arrival, the boys immediately got to work. Tim shoved the rod under the metal plate and began to pull upward, while Carlos used a nearby rock as a fulcrum for the two-by-four, and pushed it down in order to lift the lid. The metal circle showed a stubborn reluctance to give way, but little by little the boys were able to force it until the thing sprung open with a snap. A rusty set of hinges had held it in place, but, vanquished by youthful ingenuity and determination, had broken into pieces.

“Oh wow,” remarked Tim. Removal of the lid revealed a hole consisting of a metal tube just over three feet in diameter that descended downward about fifteen feet. A set of metal bars, each shaped like a flattened U, stood one above the other to form a ladder on one side of the hole. “Who’s going in first?”

Carlos gulped. He felt a little queasy in the stomach, while his chest burned with excitement. As fear battled with curiosity, Tim took advantage of his friend’s reticence to make the first move. Tim’s head was already descending below the surface when Carlos decided to follow him down.

“Bad ass!” cried Tim when he reached the bottom. “There’s a whole house down here!”

Carlos finished his climb down and strained to look around as his eyes adjusted to the little bit of light that made it so far down into the subterranean dwelling place. They were in a cylindrical room, like a tipped-over can, except the circular cross-section was interrupted by a flat floor about three-quarters of the way down. On either side of the boys was a bunk bed. At the end of the beds stood a bookshelf against one wall and a small desk and chair against the other. The limited light failed to provide sufficient visibility to see what was on the other side of the room. Undeterred, the boys made their way past the bunk beds to try to make out what was there.

Books and magazines filled the bookshelf. Carlos took some interest in these, but exploration was the initial priority. As they progressed past the bookshelf, they found themselves in a small kitchen with a sink, stove, and some cupboards on the left, and shelves of canned food and packages to the right. Tim tossed one of the packages to Carlos, who took it over by the bunk beds to see what it was in greater light.

The package was brown or dull green; the color wasn’t entirely clear in the limited light. Carlos red aloud the words printed in black on its surface.

“Meal, ready to eat. Spaghetti with meatballs.”

He walked over to Tim and put the package back on the shelf. Over at the end of the kitchen, beside some large drums of water, was a door hanging slightly open. Pitch black reigned on the other side, and the boys decided that they would have to return later with flashlights to see what was inside.

“I bet it’s the bathroom,” commented Tim.

While Tim browsed through the cupboards and cans in the kitchen, Carlos returned to the middle part of the room. The desk wasn’t much more than a small writing table, similar to the student desks at school. The shelves held probably between forty and fifty books, and at least a couple dozen magazines. Carlos tried his best to make out the titles. Although the books were limited in number, they seemed to be quite varied: Carlos thought he could make out novels, science and math books, self-help books, and practical books on home repair, gardening, and troubleshooting cars. The nature of the discovery finally dawned on him.

“We’re in a bomb shelter!” Carlos had seen such things in an old television program about nuclear war, after which he read everything the school library had on the cold war, nuclear weapons, bomb and fallout shelters, and anything related he could find. Tim had seen the television show, but was more inclined to experiential knowledge than to books.

“Whoa, cool!” Tim responded after making sense of what Carlos had just said.

It was starting to get late. School would be getting out soon, and Carlos and Tim needed to make it back to their respective homes. After climbing out of the shelter, they carefully placed the circular metal plate over the downward-leading aperture. Without the hinges, only its weight would hold it in place now, but that was sufficient: It took the two kids working together to move it into place, and they made sure it would stay put. Their new secret hideout needed to stay protected, after all.

The light breeze had died down, and the grass and herbs were as still as the oak leaves when Tim and Carlos began the walk back toward civilization.

A Little Bit of Luddism

The internet is primarily a source of outrage and pornography. If that is not the most original thought, it is because it is apparent to many.

That is not to say that the internet provides nothing else. Certainly it offers unceasing advertisements for those of insufficient digital sophistication to use an ad blocker, as well as privacy invasions, and even the occasional malware. It may even provide something useful now and then, but these are not the central purpose of the modern internet.

Do I exaggerate? Maybe. But it takes only a moment to remember how productive I was before the internet became widely adopted. Being a little older provides the opportunity to remember a world that those just a little younger did not get to experience. It also provides the opportunity to join the chorus of every generation lamenting the fall of society and claiming that things were better in the old days.

Write me off as such a geezer, if you wish. You may be correct. I am writing my thoughts, but I do not feel it important that anyone accept them as correct. Nonetheless, I will still reminisce and make my comparisons. Perhaps I will even take some action to see if my life now might be improved by what I consider to be acquired wisdom.

Where was I again? Oh yes, productivity. I ought to be infinitely more productive with the vast repository of the world’s knowledge at my fingertips—a veritable tower of babel, if you believe those who assert that it was built as a central library of all human understanding. Between Wikipedia, scientific journals, legal and illegal book downloads, how-to videos on YouTube or how-to texts on websites, and seemingly infinite other sources of information, in principle I can learn how to do virtually anything.

I could, in principle. Yet I did, and much better, before I had all these resources available at all times. The encyclopedia, the library, and the bookstore, clubs and classes, provided what I needed before. Perhaps the greater expenditure of time and energy left me more insistent on finishing a project. Or perhaps the lack of immediately available entertainment, or links to related videos, left me undistracted from the task at hand. But without YouTube tutorials on Python, I managed to learn programming: First BASIC, then C, and even just a little bit of assembly language. Books and trial and error were sufficient teachers, since I found no teachers for this topic at high school. BBSes provided useful text files, but I often ended up turning to books that provided the same information in a more easily understood format. I learned the ins and outs of the PC… after learning the ins and outs of the Apple IIe.

I continued to learn programming after getting connected to the internet, but progress increasingly slowed as the internet became more immersive and faster. I learned new programming languages, I learned new libraries, but I no longer learned new things about programming. It was all “new” ways of doing the same thing, perhaps with a nicer interface, and perhaps networked, but no longer innovative. And it took me longer to learn each new, not-new thing.

I do not think it is merely me getting old, or having learned all there is to learn about programming. Once in a while I do learn something new and profound, and I have moments of great productivity in both coding and learning. This happens on the rare occasions when I close the web browser, pick up a book, and try out what it is trying to teach.

Programming is just the easiest example on which I can reflect. This phenomenon has affected several aspects of my life. Online examples were generally unhelpful when I was studying physics at university. If I had trouble understanding something, the library was where I solved the issue. My best work in law school occurred when I turned away from LexisNexis and opened up restatements, Corpus Juris Secundum, and the case reporters in the library. Even with gardening, YouTube videos are neat, but have not translated into great real-world results like just getting outside and experimenting with shovel, seeds, and a notebook.

This very article is being written on an Apple IIe. Otherwise, it probably would not be written: With a wide internet and infinite entertainment at one’s fingertips, who has time to write? Ironically, that Apple IIe is actually connected to the internet, but naturally such access is quite limited, and the non-multitasking machine will not browse the web while the AppleWorks word processor is open.

I could be that crazy old guy who is remembering the past a little rosier than it actually was. I don’t think so—I remember it as slightly more productive, not perfect—but it is possible. But my luddite self is testing the hypothesis right now. I am not crazy enough to entirely forego the internet. For better or worse, modern life depends on the internet. I could not do my job without it, and I would lose out on many great conveniences. I did say that it may provide something useful now and then, after all. So I am merely cutting out a significant chunk of leisure internet. When I would spend a couple of hours watching YouTube, or browsing news (or polemics) or social media, I am picking up a book, or using an old computer like this Apple IIe to write or do some old-style programming, or going outside for a walk.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, I can get done that I was not doing before. Will I write about the results? Maybe. I can’t say. As I mentioned, I do not feel it important that you believe me, anyway.