By: Cara L. Gallagher, weekend contributor
Hello, keyboard. Been a while, I know. Where have I been? Let’s just leave it at “busy, enjoying the blissful, sunny, cordless weeks of summer during the Court’s off-season.” There have been a lot of Cubs games—good games too, now that Chicago finally has a North side baseball team worthy of serious attention. There was some travel, a week at Harvard, articles and books read, Internet wormholes fallen into, and tennis, lots of tennis. The product of this bliss was a complete lack of desire to outwardly reflect on the travel, books, and education by writing. This isn’t like me at all. Historically, when I’ve read something even mildly compelling, I’ll tell no less than 15 people about it, link to it on Facebook and Twitter, and find some way to incorporate it into my writing. That’s not to say I didn’t read, watch, or see anything that wasn’t good. I did, no doubt, but my desire to take it in and push it out with my own analysis just never materialized. I think I know why and I think it has a little something to do with a prophetic book I read mid-June just before I started covering the final two weeks of an exciting (understatement) Supreme Court term.
I credit Dave Eggers’ book The Circle for inspiring steroid-like levels of productivity during those weeks and for my debilitating, meteoric crash once I left.
What goes up, must come down. If you haven’t read the book, all you need do is read the recent New York Times article on what productivity and output looks and feels like when you work at Amazon. In short, Eggers created a Google-like dystopia in which cool, sub-30, hipster technophiles flock to work. Validation and job tenure is measured by one’s ability to create and push out a daily torrent of social media that proves one doesn’t just work for the company—they are the living embodiment of the company. At The Circle, “Sharing is caring” and you deprive the world’s pleasure center if you don’t share everything out on the myriad social networks. If you didn’t share out that cocktail party pic, or that trip home to visit family, or that amazing meal you had for breakfast on social media, did it really happen? No, it didn’t, because no one else saw it, felt it, shared it, or “liked” it. The reader follows young Mae as she falls prey to such mantras. I considered her a dolt whose sense of self was so jarringly conflated with clichéd corollaries like success and awesomeness being the result of quantities of comments, “likes,” followers, and posts. And then I became that dolt.
When I arrived in D.C. mid-June, there were an unprecedented 20 cases remaining without decisions. I was covering nearly all of them – fourteen of those twenty – and that was just Supreme Court cases. There were also federal District Court cases to cover. I was writing for three news organizations, editing, pushing out and publicizing content all…the…time. Most days went like this: I’d arrive at the Court, listen to the decisions, run to the press office to grab the paper copies and bench statements, frantically text my boss the opinions and bench quips/noteworthy quotes, rush back to the office (push through the crowds on the day we got the same-sex marriage decision), ingest every word of the decisions, dissents, concurrences, and write up the decisions in under an hour, Tweet out the quips and analysis, write for the other organizations, read what everyone else was saying about the decisions, schedule Tweets for the next day to publicize my pieces, post links to them on Facebook and Instagram, check Twitter for (hopefully) retweets, more followers, and favorites, check Google analytics for web traffic, shove food in wherever I could, go home, write, worry about the brevity and pithiness of what I’d written or my languid web traffic, apprehensively begin writing my next piece, sleep for 3-4 hours, wake up, caffeinate, finish the piece, and do it all again the next day.
I misjudged Egger’s main character, Mae. I couldn’t believe, in only two weeks, I’d become Mae. I did this for fourteen straight days, with no regrets. In fact, I’d become a junkie who’d adapted, embraced the pace, and thrived. If not for an evacuation out of D.C. by way of a plane ticket home, I would’ve stayed in that mode indefinitely, happy, but unhealthy.
I returned home fried and in need of an electronic intervention. My brain had to be shut down so I crashed, sleeping for 10-12 hours my first nights back. All electronic devices were purged, an act made easier thanks to a 4th of July trip to a cabin in the woods, where phones were only used to play music on cordless speakers next to campfires.
Slowly I reengaged in my digital existence. It took much longer to wind back up and return to a place where I research, read, and write for me, for pleasure, and to inform others. Eggers’ fiction nailed a culture that I thought only swept up clueless Millennials who seem, as a generation, hungrier for the kind of validation that serves as currency in Silicon Valley. Those two weeks taught me how wrong I was. My return to writing is a spirited, energized one and I can’t wait to get back to covering the Supreme Court October 2015 Term in six weeks.
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