Having Access to The World Without Leaving Home or Wearing Pants and Shoes

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My parents moved to Oklahoma City area a few months ago to be closer to the grandkids.  They seem to be adapting to suburb life well.  They joined a large church where they have lots of opportunities to socialize even outside of Sunday church services.  And my dad, being a bit of a handy man from his youth on a farm, is absolutely thrilled that he lives only a few minutes drive from stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.  Mom is talking about planting a few trees and getting a garden going in the new backyard.  Meanwhile, here in Nebraska we haven’t been above freezing point for over two weeks.  But I guess as I learned from my brother who has worked in Oklahoma City area for twenty years now, that far south seems to get spring almost a month ahead of me where I’m at.  I have been quite envious of how their winters are milder than ours (and my friends from Minnesota say the same about my winters) but I will be grateful that my summers won’t be as rough as theirs.  I imagine I’ll eventually relocate to Oklahoma myself.  It’s just a matter of time and doing the Social Security transfer paperwork.

Overall I am happy for my parents in their retirement years.  I was worried about how they would adapt to retirement when my mom retired from the hospital and my dad sold his practice.  They didn’t socialize as much as many people, at least not outside of family and church.  My mom was on the town’s library board of directors and my dad was on the local school board back in the 90s and early 2000s.  He got to sign my brother and I’s high school diploma.  I did hear of a few examples of 18 year old high school seniors got elected to their local school boards and got to sign their own diplomas.

I guess I have gotten past the fact that I can’t just get in the car and go visit them on a whim like I could when they lived only a couple hours away.  But then, I just don’t travel as much as I used to mainly because I no longer need to.  I even recently signed up for grubhub.com, so participating fast food places in my hometown can deliver food to my house now.  I now special order my clothing through a big and tall men’s webpage and they mail my orders to my door.  Sure it is more expensive than Wal Mart or the old K-Mart, but the selection is much better and the clothes fit much better too.  As I always had odd sizes.  Before I hit puberty I was quite tall but really skinny.  Never been anything between being overweight and really skinny it seems.

If I don’t feel like venturing out of my house, there are a couple places in my hometown that can deliver groceries, sometimes even same day delivery if I order in the early morning.  I get most of my prescription medications sent through the mail now. One of my college friends joked with me that if he used my setups, the only times he would need to leave his house would be to go to work, get maintenance and gas for his car, and to buy his occasional beer.  He may have been joking but that is about the reality for myself.

And now many jobs can be done from home now via telecommuting.  I imagine it’s only a matter of time before this truly takes off.  I have a cousin and his wife that can do most of their work from home if they so chose.  The only time I need to go to my bank is to buy quarters for laundry and visit the ATM machine.  I do all my blogging from my leather recliner (which was delivered from a local furniture store) in my living room.  I have friends who take free online courses (not for college credits though) through MIT.  I use Khan Academy and youtube videos a great deal when I need and want to learn something.

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Maybe it will be telecommuting that saves some of these small Midwest and Southern towns that started drying up once farming and manufacturing got more automated and needed fewer human workers.  With as bad as rents and housing costs are in the big cities I couldn’t afford to live in a place like San Francisco or New York, let alone Omaha or Kansas City.  Maybe telecommuting is what will indirectly solve the affordable housing crisis here in USA. Might even solve the problems of higher education costs getting out of control. It also will cut down down on commuting time, so less air pollution from automobiles even if electric cars weren’t becoming more affordable and easy to find.  As strange as it may sound to some people, future generations might look back and write history books about topics like how technology, science, and the open market solved problems like environmental pollution, resource depletion, poverty, and perhaps even end war.  I think in some ways (at least much of the stats and data I have personally seen) all of these are beginning to happen.

Even though I don’t socialize in person as much as I used to, I don’t feel any less connected than I did in the past.  Sure I do miss physical touch and intimacy, but I have adapted to socialize more online and on phone. I’m currently trying to get face time set up on my computer. But I have adapted to my reality and have found ways around not having much money or living near people with similar interests or not wanting to drive everywhere anymore.  There was an old song about having the world on a string.  I don’t have that, but I do more or less have the world with a few keystrokes on a computer with wireless internet.  I can all my shopping and socializing and I don’t even have to wear shoes if I don’t want to.  I can hardly wait until I can get a multi purpose 3D printer I can use in my house as easily as I now use my computer and phone.

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Progress does sometimes seem to be slow, at least when we are in the middle of the day to day grinds and stressors.  But given the perspective of decades and years, we as a civilizations and species have made an incredible amount of progress just in the last ten years, let alone my lifetime, and certainly let alone since my grandparents were born.  All of this I do from home wouldn’t have been possible even in 2000.  Yet, growing up in the 1980s the year 2000 was some mythic futurist time.  Sheesh, other than fast than light travel, matter replicators, “beem me up Scotty”, computers who act like humans, and contact with life from other planets, we are starting to live much of what science fiction even forty years ago.  I have hope.  Everyone else should too.

Reinventing Myself While Living With Schizophrenia

 

I admit I don’t have good social skills.  Never have and probably never will.  Part of it may have come from growing up in a rural town of less than 500 residents without much in the way of diversity or culture.  That and I didn’t know many people who shared my interests in science, science fiction, and fantasy type stories until I went to college.  To this day I have never bought a comic book.  I was 31 before I played my first D&D game.  I didn’t read any Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark until a couple years ago.  I didn’t sit down and watch an episode of Star Trek start to finish until I was in my thirties.  And besides the D&D, I enjoy all of these things.  I would have loved to discovered this stuff twenty five years ago.  Most people in my childhood hometown were interested in mostly farming, hunting, football, church, and politics.  I can discuss such things but they do get old after even a few minutes and then you’re just rehashing reruns of reruns.  While I didn’t hate my hometown as a child, I was quite bored and always felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a result I didn’t socialize except when I was forced to.  It’s not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  I just have a wide range of interests that growing up where I did just wasn’t able to satisfy.

I suppose in some ways now that I’m on disability insurance and don’t have to work a regular job (not that I could with my depression, paranoia, and anxiety), I feel like I’m getting a second chance at my adolescence.  Sure I’m in my late 30s, don’t have the physical strength I did at age 18, and I’m not interested in trying to get laid, but in some ways I still feel youthful.  I am enjoying my thirties far more than I ever did my teenage years.  In some ways, I feel like my thirties are kind of like my adolescence in that I have different possibilities every day as to how I want to spend my days.  And I don’t have to deal with bullies or irritable elders yammering on about how the ‘cold cruel world’ is going to kick my idealistic butt.  I had my butt kicked many times in my teens and twenties by my mental illness and trying in vain to find a job so I could be considered a ‘productive member of society’ or considered a ‘real man’ by fools and jerks whom I really couldn’t care less about.

My teens and twenties, besides the mainly truly happy times I felt in college because I got to work with smart and interesting people every day, by and large were lousy.  In fact, they sucked.  I pretty much spent my twenties going from one dead end job to another, one ill fitting relationship to another, finding out that the real world doesn’t make sense and isn’t supposed to all the while having psychotic breakdowns every few months along the way.  By the time I qualified for disability insurance at the age of 28 I realized that there is no set script to life.  I didn’t have to follow anyone’s script for me.  I could feel free to change my script anytime I want.  And I have.

Every one is free to change their life as long as they are willing to make sacrifices here and there.  Anyone who hates their thankless job could stride up their boss tomorrow, quit in a blaze of glory, and live the life of a nomad who answers to no one but their own limitations and nature itself.  But almost no one does because they aren’t willing to sacrifice their incomes, their prestige, their families, their McMansions, etc.

You can do what you like and are good at, it’s just what are you willing to give up to get there?  I have my freedom and I live quite happy in spite being on disability.  But I had to be inflicted with schizophrenia through no misdeeds of my own, give up ever having a traditional career, give up the shot at getting rich (it isn’t just monks and priests that take the vow of poverty), give up any shot of ever having a family or any kind of romance life (again, clergy aren’t the only ones who take vows of celibacy), and it can be quite lonely at times.  But I value my freedom.  I value my intelligence and wisdom.  I strive every day to make myself smarter, better read, better cultured, and wiser.

But it all came at a price.  It was a price that, at age 16 before I started having my problems with schizophrenia, I would have said ‘no way am I paying that price.’  I paid the price for my freedom and wisdom.  And, as it is, I am thankful I took the paths I did.  Statistically speaking, people with my diagnosis usually wound up lifetime institutionalized, homeless, in prison, or dead at a very young age for most of history.  I’m happy I beat the odds.  I’m happy I didn’t become just another statistic.

Everything else from this point in my life is just chicken gravy as far as I’m concerned.  So yes, I am going to be happy.  I am going to share my joy with other people while they gripe and moan about their jobs, their spouses, and humanity in general.  And if people think I’m overly optimistic or a hopeless Pollyanna, well it was one rugged process surviving from age eighteen until my early thirties when I finally learned to say, “screw others expectations, I am doing what I want.”  And I didn’t come to this conclusion all at once.  It was a gradual evolution.  My physical health may be not what it once was, but I am far happier now than I was ten years ago.  And that is mainly because I learned to let go of others’ expectations and a type of regular life that was never going to materialize.  In short, dance like no one’s watching; no one is.  Everyone else is too busy with the petty concerns of their own lives.

My Education as a Writer with Mental Illness

 

I readily admit to being eccentric.  I was such even as a child.  In my more active years, I used to pace in the back yard for hours on end regardless of the weather just making up stories in my head.  I’m sure this concerned my family some (and made me a butt of jokes among the school yard bullies), but I had an overactive imagination as a child.  I was too scared to actually put any of this into writing.  I guess I was paranoid even as a child.  I used to make up all sorts of stories and characters.  I kind of kick myself now for not making notes on some of those stories as I think some of them might have made decent science fiction or fantasy stories.  But I never considered a career as a writer because I had heard so many horror stories about English and humanities students condemned to working minimum wage jobs after college.  As it is now, the middle class is all but gone.  I may have been happier as a double major in English and History rather than trying to be a medical scientist.

I guess now that I know myself much better at age 38 than I did at age 18, I know now that I am really a writer/story teller who is interested in science, rather than a scientist interested in writing.  And I certainly am not the economist or sales man I studied to be when I studied business after it became clear my mental illness wouldn’t allow to go to medical school.

Since I’m starting to read much more again, I’m beginning to get the urge to try my hand at traditional writing again.  I absolutely love blogging and I used poetry in my twenties to learn how to write and tell stories.  But perhaps it is time to venture into new possibilities with my writings.  I’ve had some of my poems published in small literary journals in the past. I did write the rough drafts of two novels when I was in my twenties.  I made outlines for science fiction novels but never wrote anything serious.  Once I even tried my hand at writing crime drama, and my only experience with crime was when I helped my boss catch a couple shoplifters during my first day on the job when I was in college.  I wish I had kept my rough drafts of my old novels.

I became interested in writing as a means of story telling during my freshman year in college when I qualified for a place in an advanced English course.  I find out I loved writing stories and essays in that class.  I made some pretty good friends in that class too.  One of those friends became a blogger too.  I regret that I lost contact with her and everyone else in that class over the years.  Even though I didn’t dive head first into writing after that class ended, I did become interested in literature.  I must have spent as much time reading in the college library as I did studying for my business and economics classes during the last three years of college.  I became so dedicated to pursuing this course of self study that I let much of my old college life go.  I left my fraternity even though I had lots of friends in that group.  I stopped dating to pursue knowledge.  I guess I knew even early on that learning and story telling were the true loves of my life.  Besides, fighting a mental illness I would have probably made a lousy husband and father.

I more or less lived in the library the last three years of college.  But one of the purposes of formal education should be to at least give kids the tools to learn new things should they wish to once they leave school.  I felt my formal education, first at a rural public school and then at a private college in York, Nebraska, did just that for me.  And I am grateful every day that I wake up for being able to make it through college without any student debt.  With as expensive as college is getting now, and how wages simply aren’t keeping up, I whole heartedly recommend against going to a four year college unless you are going for a STEM degree or can be guaranteed to get out debt free.  I’ve seen too many friends crushed by student loan debts, robbed of their peace of mind, and working jobs they can’t stand just because of said debts.  And much of what I learned in college can just as easily be learned with a few years of hard self study via the public library system, ebooks, and youtube videos.  I dare say that I learned more in five years of hard self studying via the public library and youtube videos than I did in my formal education.  But it was the formal education that planted that desire and need for knowledge and wisdom to begin with.  These are some of my thoughts on my education and path to enlightenment as the school year starts again.

Socializing In Person and Online

Even though I haven’t been socializing much in person lately, I still make a point of calling friends and family often.  I visited my parents in person a couple times already this summer.  I saw my nephews and niece on my birthday last month.  I call home at least twice a week.  And I try to contact old college friends a couple times a month.  Even though the last time I saw some of my college friends was three years ago, I still pick up with them like I never left off.  And I’m getting better about dropping in on friends on facebook more often.  I had been avoiding socializing over facebook for a year or two because of how contentious things could get even among friends.  But I think people are starting to adapt and use more caution and tactfulness when online now.  But two or three years ago, it was practically a nasty free for all that I wanted little to do with.  I wound up unfollowing most of my friends and family (and unwisely ended a few friendships too) just because I was tired of all the divisions and fighting.

Originally facebook was a godsend for someone like me who wanted to stay in contact with people but wasn’t exactly sure how to do it.  I readily admit I don’t have great social skills.  I never really have.  But I do get lonely at times, even when I don’t show it.  Sometimes the best thing a person can do with someone who struggles with mental illness and socializing is to make the first move and just ask us how are things going.  I am convinced that much of the stress of modern living is due to us not having as strong as personal social bonds as even our grandparents had.  Life may have been shorter and more physically demanding during the Depression, the World Wars, and definitely during the frontier days, but they were made bearable because people had living and breathing friends they could count on for things as mundane as playing a game of cards or having dinner together after a long day in the fields.  I think if we ever rediscovered the joy of having nearby friends in our neighborhoods and communities, we would see fewer cases of suicide, violent crimes, and drug addictions.  I am convinced that much of these happen because some people don’t have that sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.

Even though I haven’t been to church services regularly or been part of civic organizations for a few years, I understand why things like church, local sports teams, neighborhood associations, and civic clubs like the Elks Lodge or the Masonic Lodge are popular among those who participate; they give a sense of belonging and community.  I guess I get my sense of community from shared interests in a few of the science groups I’m part of via facebook and through my blog.  I used to be a member of a local writers’ guild.  It’s too bad that group kind of faded away after a few of our members moved away.  A sense of community is important for people.  We are by nature social animals, have been long before recored history.  Even the most introverted humans are more social than many animals in the wild.

My Journey To Being An Advocate For The Mentally Ill

My birthday is coming up in a few days.  I’ll be 37 years old this year.  That would have made me a senior citizen in the Stone Age.  Of course if I would have developed schizophrenia at most points in human history, it probably would have been a death sentence.  As it is I have found what works and what doesn’t in my life with mental illness.

I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression in the autumn of 2000.  I was in the second year of my pre med studies in college.  Even though I had been having problems with depression and anxiety for a few years before, I was still able to do well in school and keep up a strong front.  I still don’t know how I did it.  But in my second year of college, it all collapsed.  I couldn’t handle stress anymore.  I was having constant panic attacks.  I would have breakdowns where I called home and yelled at my parents at least once a week.  Looking back on it, I should have gone to the mental hospital right then and there and not tried to gut out college at the same time.  As it was I withdrew from college at midterm of the spring semester and took a few months to adjust the treatments and pull myself together.  After the disaster that my second year of college was, I knew I’d never get into any med school with my grades.  So I switched over to business because, let’s face it, everything involves money and commerce.  I still thought I could be employable in the right situation after college.

During the last few years of college I became interested in economics and finance.  I applied for several jobs like financial planner, insurance sales, insurance underwriter, loan officer at a few banks, etc.  I took the obsession I previously had with science and was able to transfer it to business and economics.  It paid off to be curious for me.  I graduated in spring 2004 but, like many college seniors, I had several job interviews but no offers when I left school.  I didn’t realize just how common that was until I started talking to people over the internet a few years later.

After a few failed attempts at careers in various fields, (retail sales, academia, manufacturing), I applied for disability insurance.  This was in 2006.  I had just lost my job at the university and been forced to leave the masters’ program.  Here I was on a waiting list for disability, on a waiting list for low income housing, with no job, no confidence, and no money.  If it wasn’t for my parents help for the first half of 2006, I would have never made rent on my apartment.  But that wasn’t all for 2006.  My longtime college girlfriend and I broke up and I failed at a couple minimum wage jobs, one of which was at Goodwill.  If you can’t succeed at Goodwill, then you are really screwed up (or so I thought).  In the late summer I checked myself into the mental health hospital.  Stayed there for a week.  By this time I was at my lowest ebb.  I had no job.  My illness wasn’t allowing me to hold a job.  I had no real income.  I was living off food stamps though no mess ups of my own.  I had no idea when social security was coming through. I was on high risk insurance that was costing my parents a lot of money so I could stay on my meds.  I never could have afforded them on my own.  I came to the conclusion I would never hold a career because of my mental illness.  I came to the second conclusion that I would never marry and have a family because of my mental illness.  I was really sad and depressed during this entire time.  I really thought I’d never be happy or amount to anything ever again.  I’m glad I didn’t cross the line into becoming suicidal at this time.

Those rough years of my mid to late twenties when I came to the conclusions I would never hold meaningful employment or have a family really sucked.  But they were also when I was writing a lot, granted not as focused as I am now.  Before I got serious about my blog I wrote hundreds of poems, largely in the style of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and I also did complete rough drafts for two novels.  The novels were nothing really special, just kind of like Jack Kerouac for Millennials.  I was working on notes for a science fiction novel at this time too.  I also read every day to try to help me find a literary voice.  I read dozens of authors, ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Ayn Rand, Chuck Philhanuak to John Grisham, Alexandre Dumas to Mark Twain, Adam Smith to Nietcheze, etc.  I tried to teach myself Spanish at the time as well, but the only Spanish I know is how to ask for directions and order simple meals.  But as my ‘traditional’ side was falling apart, I was finding other ways to find meaning in my life besides work and dating.

I started writing down my thoughts and experiences with mental illness in my late twenties.  I was submitting some of my poems to be published in literary magazines.  I got a few of them published but never made any money.  I eventually wrote a few dozen short essays about life with a mental illness.  I was reading The Federalist Papers at the time and kind of modeled the book of mental health essays on that.  I put the files on a print on demand service.  I sold a few dozen of those books, mostly to friends, family, and interested mental health facilities.  After tasting a little success with those essays, I thought they might make good blog entries.  And my first few blog entries were from that original book.  Since it’s been several years since I updated that book, I probably ought to rewrite it and repost it.  And since I now have a dozens of blog entries on the subject of living with mental illness, I definitely have new material for another edition.

I started blogging through wordpress in 2012 shortly after I left my last ‘traditional’ job.  I didn’t get much for visitors early on because I had no focus for the blog and I wasn’t posting regularly.  In early 2013 I decided to focus the blog specifically on mental illness.  My audiences have grown slowly but steadily over the last few years.  I started a Facebook page to promote the blog.  I also have a patreon account a few months ago and I already have a sponsor through there.  And I’ve also made a little money since I monetized this blog.  I’m not breaking even yet with what I spent on advertising this blog, but it’s getting closer all the time.  I recently broke 14,000 all time visitors from 100 different countries.  And this is with only four years of work, a microscopic advertising budget, a niche topic, and 50 percent of the world’s population still not online.

I’ll be 37 in a few days.  And I already had a larger reach with my writing works than I ever thought possible when I first seriously started writing in 2004.  That’s been only thirteen years.  I think I’m going to keep at this and see what I can develop with this blog and my writings over the next thirteen years.  I say all of this to point out that young people in their late teens and early twenties shouldn’t sell themselves short at all.  At age 23 I would have been content to be a loan officer at a bank or an insurance salesman.  But I know I wouldn’t have been content doing such work.  I wouldn’t be doing what I’m really good at.  And let’s face it, in this day and age a person can make money doing almost anything thanks to the exposure of the internet if they put in the time and lots of effort to get noticed.  I’ve already accomplished more than I thought I could as a writer thanks to the internet, especially when I started out I was just writing poetry out in notebooks.  And now after running this blog for four years and getting some audience and dozens of positive emails, I know I’m only scratching the surface of what can be done.  I never would have thought this possible when I first applied for disability insurance.  Mental illness is one of the few things that is still discriminated against with little to no protest.  I intend to be part of changing that.  I’m not going away.  The mentally ill bloggers and you tubers aren’t going away either.  We will not be silent and suffer needlessly anymore.  Consider this a declaration of war against mental illness stigma.

 

How The Internet Made My Mental Illness More Manageable

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Even though I haven’t gotten out of my hometown all winter I have still managed to keep in contact with friends and family.  Thanks to the internet I keep in contact with my old friends via Facebook.  And I’ve made several new acquaintances that would be friends if only we lived in the same town through the forums and groups I participate in.  I’m involved in a few futurists’ pages as well as some science pages.  I guess I really don’t interact much with other writers or bloggers, not as much as I should.  I used to belong to the Nebraska Writers’ Guild but I let that membership lapse as there weren’t many guild members living near me and few of the guild members were my age or younger.  I guess even mentally ill people like to spend time with people similar to them.

With my Wal Mart special smart phone I keep in contact with family members a couple times a week.  If my dad happens to be in town, he will send me a text message asking if I want to have lunch with him or mom will ask me if I want her to pick up something from Wal Mart.

Speaking of shopping, I don’t really buy that much in traditional stores.  I still go to the all night supermarket to get groceries every couple weeks.  But even there I find out about their sales and specials through the store’s web page.  I still get my psychiatric meds through a traditional pharmacy.  But even there I get automated reminders that tell me when I’m due for refills.  The only time I actually deal with another person is when I go to the pharmacy to physically retrieve my refills.  Even that may become a thing of the past in a few years if automated pharmacies and delivery drones pick up traction.

Most of what I buy anymore outside of groceries, fuel for my car, and basic home items, I now buy online.  When I buy books, it’s online.  When I buy computer games, it’s online.  When I buy movies or tv shows, it’s through amazon’s digital service.  I get all my music online through spotify.  Most of my tv watching is done via youtube or netflix.  Many of my computer games now have online support and updates.  I now buy most of my clothes online as I do have rare sizes.  Sure it is a little more expensive, but I can find exactly what I want as long as I’m willing to look.  As much as I appreciate second hand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, even they can be a roll of the dice in terms of finding what I need.

Comparing what I spend now to what I spent several years ago on my living expenses, I’m now actually spending less than I was ten years ago.  With my social security disability pension being what it is, I make less than fifteen thousand dollars per year.  Even though that puts me below the poverty line, at least by American standards, I don’t feel poor.  I have access to treasure troves of music that would put any music collection of twenty years ago to shame.  Thanks to wikipedia I’ll never have to buy an encyclopedia set.  Thanks to online clothing stores, I don’t need to settle for clothing that doesn’t really fit or doesn’t look good on me as long as I keep my measurements up to date.  Thanks to online news and entertainment, I really don’t need cable tv.  The only thing I use cable tv for anymore is live sporting events.  Even at that I watched some college football games online last year.  So I really don’t need to buy a ticket, navigate a crowded stadium, and sit in the freezing cold to watch Nebraska Huskers football anymore.  I can sit on my own couch, grill my own meats, and not worry about anyone blocking my view or having to go down several flights of stairs to get to the restroom.  I’ll keep watching sporting events online even if I really have little interest of seeing them in person.  Unless, of course, the Colorado Rockies ever got back to the World Series or if the U.S. ever hosted the World Cup soccer tournament again.

I can get even medical advice online anymore, thanks to services like WebMD.  I can type in my symptoms and see if what ails me is serious enough to go to the doctor or not.  So I don’t usually have to go to the doctor unless I’m really sick or my mental illness problems are really out of line.  I haven’t had to go to the psych hospital in over three years but it is good that the option is still there.  Since I spend so much time online, I have developed some friendships with people I’ll no doubt never meet.  And I get to post about mental illness and it’s ups and downs in a forum that didn’t exist even twenty years ago.  Twenty years ago I would have had the same thoughts, but no means of recording them for a public audience.  I would have had to suffer in silence if I had these problems as recently as the 1980s instead of the 2000s and 2010s.  We are living in a totally different world than the one I grew up in during the 1980s and early 1990s.  And I’m completely glad for it.  I can hardly wait to see what other cool stuff and finding come out in the next twenty five years.  Thanks to the internet, I can watch this new world unfold and take root from the comfort of my own living room and not even leave my small home town.