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The e-mail pings as I

navigate between instant-messaging sessions.

My PDA vibrates, my cellphone rings, the message-waiting screen blinks at me from my Internet telephone connection.

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And on my desktop, waiting to be installed, sits my new video-conferencing camera.

What was I thinking about again?

It feels like a different version of my manual labour days years ago. The first few times wielding a shovel, your hands are still winter-tender. All you can concentrate on is the pain you feel in your

fingers.

Then, over time, calluses form and it's no longer an

issue. What was painful

becomes a dull throb, and eventually disappears

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altogether.

But with that callus, when you sit down at the piano or do intricate woodwork, your hands feel numb, not all there, clumsy and blunt.

I wonder, in being exposed to constant electronic chafing, is there an equivalent neuro-callus forming in my brain? Is there a real impact on my patience, the intricacy of my thoughts, my ability to absorb deeply and be in the

moment?

I work with some of the latest and greatest technologies and software out there in my job as a technology strategist for a large company.

You would think I have a full-bore case of tech addiction. And in many ways I do. The constant flows of information and communication wash over me like a warm wave, and when I am away for too long, I feel the strong itch to plug back in.

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And yet I often feel ambivalent. I love what this hyper-connectivity allows me to do. I could never work and play without it, and I wouldn't want to go back to those unplugged days. But something feels as though it's changed - the operation of consciousness.

With all the constant external inputs vying for our attention, it seems the chatter of the inner voice that propels us through the day, the voice that helps us understand and explain our lives to ourselves, is muted, often drowned out.

I often find myself on edge, jittery and unsatisfied at the end of each day, feeling that I haven't read enough, written enough, seen enough. Time that stretches out with great promise early in the morning disappears into a vortex of busy, busy, busy, now, now, now.

I have been reading and rereading classic literature, Chekhov, Melville, Thoreau, Proust. The density of the words, the thoughts, the ideas - it feels as though I've reached deep into someone's mind, their essence, in a way that rapid-fire communication glosses over.

In insta-world, the delicious savouring of a passage or idea is often trumped by the headlong rush to get to the next thing. The journey becomes subsumed by the destination.

After extended periods of

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e-mail, instant messaging, social networking and twittering, dipping my toe back into the world of literature underlines the contrast, the different level of communication being exchanged.

On the bus or train, I notice the facial expressions of people absorbed in their activities: the pecking, rapid-fire movements or conversations of people bent over a device, their brows often furrowed; the zone-outs tied in to their music, audio or video; and the few diehard readers, engrossed in their books amid the electronic turbulence around them. If how you interact with information in the world is reflected physically, you could rush to jump to conclusions.

Rich, deep, profound sentiments and observations require a place for one's inner world, a place that is separate from the hustle, bustle and noise of the immediate, reflexive and spontaneous.

In an environment where practically all new media and personal communications are instantaneous, demanding more and more from us, where does our inner voice find the time to emerge and guide us?

And how do we recognize when we are confusing quantity of information with

quality?

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When I take a deep breath and step back, my automatic embrace of all that is new, better and faster is tempered by an appreciation for the depths of insight and knowledge of something as seemingly simple as a good book.

Dennis Venerus lives in Dundas, Ont.

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