Mettle detecting on Mars
Has life on earth become too complicated?
"I see skies of blue / And clouds of white / The bright blessed day / The dark sacred night / And I think to myself / What a wonderful world”
—Songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss (“What a Wonderful World”)
Last week I experienced a physical, involuntary rejection of technology—and a planetary revelation
In January, my doctor prescribed a heart monitor for me to wear for a month. Unlike the bulky holster, wires and briefcase required a few years ago, today’s monitors are like giant band-aids with three built-in electrodes and a jelly-like adhesive that sticks to your chest and won’t let go.
I did fine for the first few weeks and made sure to stay off-camera at meetings and conceal the metallic leech perched below my left collarbone. But then the adhesive gave out and I woke up with circular rows of blisters where the electrodes had burned my skin. They will heal, but in the meantime, the wound resembles something from an alien film. I also had a nightmare where everything took place inside buildings with skybridges and tunnels and there was no way out. The world was windowless, with the only light coming from computer screens, like in the Black Mirror episode, “Fifteen Million Merits.”
I tried to go back to sleep by closing my eyes and imagining myself walking in Central Park, sitting on a porch in the mountains or feeling saltwater rushing over my toes as I dug them into the sand on the beach. But I could not access memories of these places, only blue-light visions of images I’d snapped with my smartphone or seen while scrolling Instagram.
Have you ever returned from a vacation, jumped back into your daily routine, and three days later, the trip doesn’t seem real? Only your photos or videos do?
Are we disconnecting from memories we’ve experienced with our own eyes and are replacing them with those we’ve seen on screens?
Have we merged with technology to the point that clinging to our humanity is as futile as those horrific squeals lobsters make when they are being boiled?
I was at my wit's end.
The next evening, in my funk of zero enthusiasm, Tim convinced me to step out onto the patio in 35-degree weather before bedtime and look into the full, cloudless winter sky. We saw Orion’s belt and Mars glowing like a blurry drop of blood in the blackness.
The moment instantly lifted my mood.
I went to my dictionary afterward to make sure I understood the meaning of infinitesimal. To be honest, I thought it was spelled infantesimal, meaning small, like a child. But that word doesn’t exist. The internet says Infinitesimal means “a quantity that is closer to zero than any standard real number, but that is not zero.”
For those of us who grew up in the generation considered Less Than Zero, this distinction mattered. To stand 86.33 million miles away from Mars, a planet some consider to be a future alternative to the one we’ve inhabited here, means to understand existence itself is a positive-sum proposition. You may be infinitesimal but you can never be zero or less than zero. You are a glorious creation. You belong to infinity.