Red Alerts

Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, September 7, 2018


In what I’ll call an idiot-savant moment, I recently realized that the reason my email calendars at work weren’t working was that I’d neglected somehow to switch on the obligatory alerts for tasks and events. So, no matter how things I’d entered into the system, the system would never do what it was meant to do — remind me of my responsibilities. I’d forgotten to remind it to remind me.

For some weeks, I’d been compensating by relying on my memory. Yikes. Small, sporadic alarm puffs were going off in my head instead of the more reliable digital screen pop-ups. Luckily, the whole digital calendar idea has not superseded the analog list I still take pleasure in making, which is basically square boxes on spiral bound lined paper to put x’s through. (It’s not just my generation, ok? See Bullet Journal, the analog system for the digital age.)

But it does seem like just moments ago that we were really relying on things like the note taped onto the fridge, the ballpoint-pen scrawl in the palm of the hand, the Day-timer, even relying on the other person whose job it was to remind you of something. All of which are basically in the bone yard of quotidian life at this point, bleached and turning to dust.

Instead, what we have today are smart phones (and smart phones linked to computers) reminding us literally — and virtually — about every part of every pie wedge of time. Everything you’ve both chosen and not chosen to subscribe to. Everything you might have ever glanced at, or, with a click, gotten on board with (into eternity). All the news you might think you do need, as well as the 99 percent of it you don’t. Plus, a whole host of other things, like when to drink water. (Done it.) When to meditate. (Check.) When to say happy birthday to someone and send them phone-fetti. (Done that a lot.) When to reorder checks (won’t do it no matter how many reminders; I’ll run out first). When to fit the shortest workout ever (one-minute) into your day (Yup.). When to pick up your food from that Costco guy (and how to change a reminder three times in one afternoon). (Done that, too.)

Rather than get too philosophical about the remindfulness of it all (which is actually already the name of an app that reminds you — oxymoronically — to be mindful), I just want to parse out my idea for a better today and a better world.

This idea is so simple: a cascade of digital reminders, alarms, and alerts of all that is right with the world. The sun rises and – ding – and here’s a recent poet laureate’s poem about it. Some smarty-pants kid just invented a microbe that eats plastic — ding — and here’s a link to get the details. News flash (ding): here’s how many people were released from prison last month after DNA tests proved them innocent, and a link to of one of them giving a TED Talk. How many livers (ding-ding) were received today in transplants all over the world. A photo of the Dachsund that saved an entire family from a house fire (dingaling). Moments of beauty (ding), inspiration (ding), invention (ding), intelligence, humor, compassion, creation, natural wonder, heroism (ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!).

My husband, prone to news alerts, these days especially, will sometimes read a little of the good news that gets swept into the high tide of daily churn like sparkly shells on the shore. The other day it was something so fine — so wondrous, even — that the forwarded link made me stop in my tracks and do the head-down phone thing right along with the rest of humanity. Here’s what had come in amid all the latest political fiasco, crime, violence, struggle, and cataclysm.

It was a Nat Geo alert about the discovery of what appeared to be a quadrillion tons of diamonds lurking 100 miles down in the cratonic roots of the planet’s mantle. The mother lode, discovered via sound wave and abnormal seismic activity. Can we even fathom what a quadrillion tons of diamonds looks like, especially in contrast to a relatively miniscule quantity spewed out of volcanoes and then cut, shined, and plopped onto our fingers and necks? There are immense reserves of the same precious substance, the hardest mineral known, embedded deep within the Earth and invisible to the eye. We, in Whoville, are standing upon it.

Now, that’s a red alert. The kind of sparkly red alert I want filling my phone and my head and my consciousness on a daily basis. Is that so much to ask?



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