An only slightly fictionalized story, for my long-suffering wife.
“It’s happening again,” I tell my wife from the couch. “I’m having that soul-crushing experience again.”
“Too much work?” she asks, expecting the answer to be yes, since no matter what quantity of work I’m actually burdened with at any given moment, the way I describe it to to other people when they ask is always “too much.”
“No,” I say. “Work is fine right now.”
“Had a paper rejected?”
“Pfft, no,” I say. “Like that ever happens to me!” (I don’t tell her it’s happened to me twice in the past week.)
“The blog posts,” I tell her, motioning to my laptop screen. “There’s just too many of them in my Reader. I can’t keep up! I’m drowning in RSS feeds!”
My wife has learned not to believe anything I say, ever; we’ve lived together long enough that her modal response to my complaints is an arched eyebrow. So I flip my laptop around and point at the gigantic bolded text in the corner that says All Items (118). Emotionally gigantic, I mean; physically, I think it’s only like 12 point font.
“One hundred and eighteen blog posts!” I yell at absolutely no one. “I’m going to be here all night!”
“That’s because you live here,” she helpfully points out.
I’m not sure exactly when I became enslaved by my blog feeds. I know it was sometime after Carl Zimmer‘s amazing post about the man-eating fireflies of Sri Lanka, and sometime before the Neuroskeptic self-published his momentous report introducing three entirely new mental health diagnoses. But that’s as much as I can tell you; the rest is lost in a haze of rapid-scrolling text, retweeted links, and never-ending comment threads. There’s no alarm bell that sounds out loud to indicate that you’ve stomped all over the line that separates occasional indulgence from outright “I can quit any time, honest!” abuse. No one shows up at your door, hands you a bucket of Skittles, and says, “congratulations! You’re hooked on feeds!”
The thought of all those unread posts piling up causes me to hyperventilate. My wife, who sits unperturbed in her chair as 1,000+ unread articles pile up in her Reader, stares at me with a mixture of bemusement and horror.
“Let’s go for a walk,” she suggests, making a completely transparent effort to distract me from my immense problems.
Going for a walk is, of course, completely out of the question; I still have 118 blog posts to read before I can do anything else. So I read all 118 posts, which turns out not to take all night, but more like 15 minutes (I have a very loose definition of reading; it’s closer to what other people call ‘seeing’). By the time I’ve done that, the internet has written another 8 new articles, so now I feel compelled to read those too. So I do that, and then I hit refresh again, and lo and behold, there are 2 MORE articles. So I grudgingly read those as well, and then I quickly shut my laptop so that no new blog posts can sneak up on me while I’m off hanging out in Microsoft Word pretending to do work.
Screw this, I think after a few seconds, and run to find my wife.
“Come on, let’s go for that walk,” I say, running as fast as I can towards my sandals.
“What’s the big rush,” she asks. “I want to go walking, not jogging; I already went to the gym today.”
“No choice,” I say. “We have to get back before the posts pile up again.”
“I said, I have a lot of work to do.”
So we go out walking, and it’s nice and all that; the temperature is probably around 70 degrees; it’s cool and dry and the sun’s just going down; the ice cream carts are out in force on the Pearl Street mall; the jugglers juggle and the fire eaters eat fire and give themselves cancer; a little kid falls down and skins his knee but gets up and laughs like it didn’t even hurt, which it probably didn’t, because everyone knows children under seven years of age don’t have a central nervous system and can’t feel pain. It’s a really nice walk, and I’m happy we’re on it, but the whole time I keep thinking, How many dozens of posts has PZ Myers put up while I’ve been gone? Are Razib Khan and Ed Yong posting their link dumps as I think this? And what’s the over-under on the number of posts in my ‘cog blogs’ folder?
She sees me doing all this of course, and she’s not happy about it. So she lets me know it.
“I’m not happy about this,” she says.
When we get back, we each back to our respective computer screen. I’m relieved to note that the internet’s only made 11 more deliveries, which I promptly review and discharge. I star two posts for later re-consideration and let the rest disappear into the ether of spent words. Then I open up a manuscript I’ve been working on for a while and pretend to do some real work for a couple of hours. With periodic edutainment breaks, of course.
Around 11:30 pm I decide to close up shop for the night. No one really blogs after about 9 pm, which is fortunate, or I’d never get any sleep. It’s also the reason I avoid subscribing to European blogs if I can help it. Europeans have no respect for Mountain Time.
“Are you coming to bed,” I ask my wife.
“Not yet,” she says, looking guilty and avoiding eye contact.
“Why not? You have work to do?”
“Nope, no work.”
“Cooking? Are you making a fancy meal for dinner tomorrow?”
“No, it’s your turn to cook tomorrow,” she says, knowing full well that my idea of cooking consists of a take-out menu and telephone.
She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. The words are all jammed tightly in between her vocal cords.
Then I see it, poking out on the couch from under a pillow: green cover, 9 by 6 inches, 300 pages long. It’s that damn book!
“You’re reading Pride and Prejudice again,” I say. It’s an observation, not a question.
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are. You’re reading that damn book again. I know it. I can see it. It’s right there.” I point at it, just so that there can’t possibly be any ambiguity about which book I’m talking about.
She gazes around innocently, looking at everything but the book.
“What is that, like the fourteenth time this year you’ve read it?”
“Twelfth,” she says, looking guilty. “But really, go to bed without me; I might be up for a while still. I have another fifty pages or so I need to finish before I can go to sleep. I just have to find out if Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy end up together.”
I look at her mournfully, quietly shut my laptop’s lid, and bid the both of them–wife and laptop–good night. My wife grudgingly nods, but doesn’t look away from Jane Austen’s pages. My RSS feeds don’t say anything either.
“Yes,” I mumble to no one in particular, as I slowly climb up the stairs and head for my toothbrush.
“Yes, they do end up together.”