Monthly Archives: October 2012

On Information Overload

When I was younger, I was someone very involved with my senses.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve become much more divorced from them; I find it harder and harder to actually be in the moment, be outside smelling the smells and hanging out with the trees.

It’s not just that I had children, and they ate my life, because now that I stop and think about it, children are incredibly present all the time.  They are IN their senses, moving through the world, part of things.  So why would having children make me less likely to feel?

Well, it’s not just being close to my senses.  My memory, especially lately, has become shot.  I can’t recall what things look like, or where they are located, or whether someone said something to me — which is very unlike me — and I’m noticing that I’m having trouble accessing precious memories.  I can’t recall whole sections of my life.  Did I visit that town that year?  Did I actually spend six months doing that activity?  The sequences of things are becoming inexact.  Things are all much more of a blur than they were even five years ago.

And when I’m writing, I reread to find whole scenes that I wrote — and don’t remember writing them.  Which wigs me out.  How did I get here?

The truth, as I am coming to realize, is not that my life got busier with children.  The truth is that my children arrived at about the same time I got a laptop, around the same time the internet really began to pulse along in full spate.

The flow of information moving through my consciousness has been stepped up to a degree that I am experiencing early dementia.


You know how old people’s brains get totally full when they’re really old, and they start to live in a sort of mushy fog? How they can’t remember things very well, and don’t always know where they are?  That’s happening to me.  I spend hours and hours and hours every week on the internet, keeping up my various social media things, doing PR for my book, researching venues to send my stories out to.  Reading my friends’ links from Facebook. Doing research for work. Doing research for play. Finding things I need to buy. Surfing.

Consuming information.

I am noticing that recently my ability to sit and write fiction has dried up.  All I want to do is make stuff — to sew, to build, to garden.  I am drawn to fabrics and spend my non-computer time imagining how to create costumes for the school play this spring.  I am not in the least interested in sitting down and actually writing words.  And my kids?  They tell me I’m fun to talk to, because they can tell me the same stories over and over and it will always be a new story to me.

This is not good.

My brain, which is supposed to be remembering things — not just shopping lists, but actually making memories — my brain, which is supposed to be feeding me sensory input: the organ that allows me to experience the wind on my face and the stars in the sky at night, the one that gives me interesting thoughts, that has allowed me to write amazing essays on the Cabinet of Wonders, has partially shut down.  It’s on overwhelm, and I haven’t even noticed. I don’t feel the breeze anymore, don’t look at the stars, except in little cracks between the emails and the driving and the research and the cleaning and arguing with my kids.

It’s all just too much.  I want my brain back.

So I’m going to try a little experiment.  I’m going to cut back on all the social media stuff.  I’m going to curtail my computer time, spend at least two hours a day outside, and immerse myself in making stuff.  I’m going to turn the modem off on weekends.  It’s hard, because I do have all this PR stuff to do for my book. And a part of my says I should be writing. But I don’t care: I don’t want to be this half-person anymore.  I’m going on an information diet.

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Monday Brain Fodder: Light-Conductive Skeletons

(“Hexactinellae” from Ernst Haeckel‘s Kunstformen der Natur, 1904)

The Venus Flower Basket is a type of hexactinellid sponge found in deep ocean waters.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about them:

“The glassy fibers that attach the sponge to the ocean floor, 5-20 cm long and thin as human hair, are of interest to fiber optics researchers. The sponge extracts silicic acid from seawater and converts it into silica, then forms it into an elaborate skeleton of glass fibers…

These sponges’ skeletons have amazing geometric configurations, which have been extensively studied for their stiffness, yield strength, and minimal crack propagation. An aluminum tube (aluminum and glass have similar elastic modulus) of equal length, effective thickness, and radius, but homogeneously distributed, has 1/100th the stiffness.”

Not only that, but the spicules, the (sort of) hairs of the animal, consist of a fine silica glass thread covered with a reflective coating, just like fibre optic thread, but thinner — and so flexible that they can be tied into a knot without breaking.  Unlike man-made glass fibres, they are formed at normal temperatures, allowing the sponge to build the spicules out of the very specific chemicals that make it so able to carry light — something scientists wish they could reproduce.

One last weird thing about these sponges:  “the majority of their soft tissue is made of a giant multinucleated cell, not individual cells like other animals. Because of this, at least one species can send electrical signals through the whole animal, in the same way that signals travel through nerves. These signals are typically in response to touch or to sediment in the water. The signal reaches all parts of the sponge and causes the sponge to stop filtering water. After a few minutes, the sponge will start its filtering again, but if the irritation is still there it will stop again, and it will keep testing the water in this way until the water is clear of sediment or the disturbance has gone.”
(– Glass Sponges and Sponge Reefs in BC Waters, by Dr. Sally Leys, University of Alberta)

Lastly, although their skeletons are made of silica (glass), they are still flexible.  How do they do that?

I can’t help but wonder: what if, through genetic manipulation, glass sponges are able to build things for us? Armor, architecture and lightweight, strong vehicle panels — all of which can also be used to communicate information via their spicules…

More on sponges in general, and glass sponges in particular (about halfway down).

Also, a video about the brilliant strength and structural design in glass sponges.


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