Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Scrolling, Scrolling

Scrolling, Scrolling

          Let’s imagine Khamet, a young scholar in Egypt, 2,018 B.C.E., the year Abraham was born in the Babylonian city of Ur.  On a high, open shelf, Khamet finds “The Story of Sinuhe” on a scroll—two wooden dowels, about 12 inches high, onto which a 30-foot length of papyrus is rolled left and right. This paper is made of special reeds that, lain flat, adhere to each other by their own natural gum.  Khamet hefts down the scroll, brings it toward his body, hugs it to himself until he  lays it on a table.  Here he unrolls the texts inscribed with special inks made of burnt wood and acacia sap.  A fragrant woody scent, reminiscent of the scroll’s natural origins, wafts up.  Khamet visits his favorite books so often, that he can recognize them not only by touch but by their individual scents. These perfumes etch the words into his memory on a cellular level.  Tonight, at dinner, he will recite a portion of the story to his family, by heart.  He traces the words as he reads, the raised edges of the letters as familiar to him as the brailling that won’t appear for another 3,809 years, when Napoleon’s soldiers had to devise a way to send night messages without exposing their location with light.

          To open this scroll is, for Khamet, to spread his arms wide—an inviting gesture that has lodged itself into his strong arms and muscular back. His burly wrists turn in coordination as he reads. This is the only scroll he will read today, spending time to discuss it with his fellow scholars, ruminating over it as he walks home by the Nile, where the papyrus grows wild, and crocodiles eyes peek above the surface of the green waters.

          Let’s now imagine Jennifer, 2018 A.D., a student with her smart phone. She’s opened her free Shakespeare’s Sonnets APP, but texts are pinging in, and Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest notices.  She has plenty of time, she thinks, and taps over to Pinterest, and scrolls, scrolls, scattered images and words spinning into a blur.  She is as devoted to her scrolling as Khamet is to his.  But whereas he practices an expansive gesture, spreading open his arms all day; Jennifer curls around her phone, like a conch, small and cramped. Khamet has defined biceps and lats—Jennifer has texting claw, Tinder finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, and cell phone elbow.  Khamet strides into the world with his head up; Jennifer is hunched and distracted—no fragrance, no exercise of her muscles or capacity to memorize, no seeing the scenery or greeting others for long talks as she walks. 

          Because it’s the same glassy surface all day and most of the night, her fingertips are dulled to touch.  And as she scrolls, the message to herself is—hurry to the next thing. Dismiss. What’s next? What else? Go away.  Her brain is enchanted by this flick, flick, flick, this not having to stop, this constant running-away-from to something from-which-to-run-away.  Gertrude Stein once wrote that to know someone’s nature, notice what she or he repeats. What we repeat is what we become.  Jennifer is always hunting, never arriving—a life of fleeting dopamine hits.  Nothing sticks.  Nothing lasts.
          Jennifer will not remember much, if anything, what scrolled past her today.  Instagram promises “Along with making over-posting a non-issue, the new feature also eliminates the permanency.” Jennifer has been entrained by her scrolling to skim—skim past nature, skim past people, skim past her own sensations.Tonight, Jennifer will not recite a sonnet to her family.  She will scroll through dinner as her family scrolls, too. She will swipe away this day as she will tomorrow, all blurring into each other.  And, oops, she forgot to read those sonnets, and, after making thousands of scrolling decisions, she ran out of willpower to even brush her teeth last night.  And now she’s already late for class.

 Between Khamet and Jennifer, we had Jack Kerouac, who wrote his travelogue On the Road, on one continuous 120-foot scroll of paper in a three-week binge.  His manuscript, like his travels, were one continuous, unbroken, cohesive artifact. In comparison, with today’s smart phones, we scroll away our lives, in a blizzard of confetti.



  1. Dr. Rich,
    This post was cheeky; it's incredible to see how the meaning of "scroll" as transformed between the time of Khamet and Jennifer & your use of "Tinder finger" made me literally laugh out loud! As I read this post awaiting for my next class to meet, whilst sitting on the floor in the Center for Academic Success, I ironically had the pleasure of listening to two girls walking passed with their faces completely submerged into their phones. No conversation except for the one girl talking to her friend (honestly was to herself because her other gal pal wasn't even paying attention because she was too invested in her scroll-time) telling that her thumb was killing her, but continued to scroll. It showed the sheer weakness she exhibits but the strength in her lack of self control

  2. I don't have a smart phone. I am online a lot of the day on my laptop at home. I do walk away from it to do other things and sometimes for an hour or more at a time... to paint, cook, do household chores. If I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, I don't interrupt very much to check my messages. When I go out, I generally don't take my laptop with me. This gives me a long break from the computer, from news, and FB. My concentration is quite good, I think.
    I have no intention of getting a smart phone because of these risks. I waste enough time with my current habits.
    At the end of each day, I like to review what I've accomplished: writing a poem, prepping canvases or painting, cooking/baking something from scratch, chores completed. I'm retired, so I am conscious of not wanting to fritter away my last years.
    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Susannah.

  3. Dr. Rich,
    I simply loved the use of wordplay within your passage and how you gave such meaning to the term "scroll/scrolling". Each and every day, I exist in a world where it is unbelievably common to see a group of friends out together for dinner Friday night or for brunch Sunday morning and instead of conversing with one another, they prefer to get lost in their cellular devices. It is truly a sad sight. I for one have been a previous victim of this and have since tried to cut back on the use of technology.I was quite amused with your clever social media terms like "tinder finger". I try my hardest each day not to end up like Jennifer by constantly keeping myself busy and away from my phone. I indulge in activities such as performing in musical theatre, playing various instruments, spending time with my friends and family, or simple catching up on a television show or new movie.I appreciate this post so much and actually plan to share it with some of my peers. It is passionate individuals such as yourself that really make the world go round. Khamet definitely has the right idea on how to live life!

  4. I do enjoy the parallels you put between Khamet and Jennifer. I do believe that a lot of people are engulfed in their cellphones. The more I read posts and articles addressing the issue, the more aware of how bad it is. When walking to class I don't use my phone. I choose to enjoy what's around me and enjoy the little nature I get to see on campus. However, everyone around me look down at their phones. Most times they don't pay attention and have to look up quickly to make sure they aren't bumping into anything. But, I also see a lot of people talking to their friends and genuinely enjoying each others presence. So, I think there's a balance.

    One thing I did want to say is that I believe smartphones do come in handy when it comes to reading because there's accommodations. Sometimes when I have a physical text I can't read it too well because I don't like the font. When I read on my phone I can change the font and the brightness and it's good for me to read. When I don't want to carry around a large book I just keep it on my phone so I can access it easily. I also go back and forth between books because my attention span isn't that good.

    One thing I do believe in is balance. I think people should start balancing out both the physical and electronics so that there's a healthy balance. It's okay to not participate in anything electronic wise but it's okay to participate. It's just figuring out when it gets unhealthy.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post, and I really liked how you described the two different people. After reading it really made me think about how we need more people like Khamet around of us. This is because now everyone is like Jennifer always on there phones almost every second of the day. We are on our phones when we are in the middle of a conversation, walking to class, just to waste time it just takes over. Honestly the one place I’m not on my phone is when I’m walking through campus, I like to look around, look at the people around me, the trees just everything that’s around me and enjoy it.

    But I can’t say that I don’t use my phone all the time, but I try my hardest not to when I’m in deferent places. It’s okay to use your phone to an existent you just need to watch yourself.

  6. Dr. Rich,

    Your post really helps to highlight the irony of modern-day technology. Even though technology is supposed to help us become much more advanced, in some ways, it has really bought us backwards as a society, instead of forwards. In many ways, Khamet ironically seems much more advanced and productive in his life than his modern-day comparison, Jennifer.

    While Khamet explores the world through his senses and interacts with other human beings, Jennifer on the other hand scrolls and scrolls and scrolls—endlessly. She ignores her surroundings, completely forgetting about other humans around her as she grows desensitized to her own senses. Out of touch, the only thing that she can feel is her phone screen.

    This character you have displayed really resonates with many young people of this generation, who have essentially become glued to their phones. Like Jennifer, many people have become dangerously desensitized to all things in their surroundings, which in my opinion, is a step backward as far as advancements are concerned. Life was simpler in Khamet’s time, as people did not need to worry about smartphones. In a way, the technology that has provided us with smartphones has become both a blessing and a curse. It almost makes me wish I was living in Khamet’s time, where people did not have such technology to distract them from living life. Life is much more enjoyable when it is experienced through the five senses that most humans are blessed with, but unfortunately we have let smartphones take that away from us.

    Nada Amer

  7. Dr. Rich,

    When I first started reading this blog post I instantly felt I could relate to this sentence- "Khamet visits his favorite books so often, that he can recognize them not only by touch but by their individual scents." When I was younger I read A LOT, something I don't do as often as an adult. What I can remember to this day is the pungent smell of library books, flipping through the pages and instantly remembering nostalgic memories sitting in the library, legs crossed, with a crisp book on my lap. I can even hear the crinkle the spine of a book makes when you first open it.

    I worry that many young people will have absolutely no idea what any of this means. Most books are read on kindles, iPads, iPhones, Chrome Books. etc. I mean sure our senses are being touched- just not in the organic way I can remember. You provided us with a great juxtaposition of two people in two very different periods of time. Although we have advanced a lot in many ways we have also lost a lot as a society. I sometimes wish we could revert back to Khamet's time.