Keeping Tabs

Following one last Twitter argument about the wisdom of containment over herd immunity she had closed every last browser tab and refused to open her laptop for a week. She had used the time to breathe, to look around and to listen to her world, where tweeting was for the birds and likes came in the form of a purr, a hug, or the race of the hens towards the back door when she opened it. It was peaceful. Half-forgotten ingredients were excavated from the ice of the freezer and pressed into service as every night she prepared to play lockdown Ready Steady Cook, hoping her judges would be kind. The inability to reserve a delivery slot became less frustrating, to the point she stopped checking, and her husband and son learned to give her recipes rather than com-plaints in response to the absence of a favourite treat.

After that first week, though, ever more insistent notifications forced her to return to the digital world. Did she need anything? Was she sick, because she’d been so quiet? Are you OK? Are you OK? PLEASE are you OK? She wasn’t sure how or even if to answer these questions. Something had shifted. Their small house had become smaller over the previous week, especially with the whole family at home. It was as if she’d failed to notice a quiet descent into Wonderland. The bookcases were more prominent, the book spines somehow more luminous despite the dust and occasional cobweb. The sofa seemed to have doubled in size, while the footstool had evolved to become a table laden with books, knitting, stray mugs and electronic components as each mem-ber of the family had claimed their share of the surface. With the exception of the garden, the outside world felt remote. Occasional sounds from the world beyond the porch were muffled, lit-tle more than a distant, passive-aggressive reminder and paid as much heed, for that matter.

She opened her laptop with equal parts reluctance and curiosity. Had the world come to its sens-es? Restoring her recently closed tabs she wondered what future anthropologists would make of her digital history and indulged in a theatrical shudder for the cat’s benefit. At the point she had decided to switch the world off, she had 52 tabs open. News from the UK, the US, China and Ja-pan. A couple of Wordpress tabs where she had been updating web copy for clients. A whole host of tabs related to another client who had refused to pay her last invoice and cancelled all work because of the lockdown, even though she was well-placed to know they were still trading online because they’d not removed her access to either their Shopify store or Google Analytics, which for their site and others accounted for a few more tabs still. There were tabs for digital courses she’d been working through, tabs for Ravelry and for Arne and Carlos’s quarantine knit-along, whose soothing colourwork she’d somehow forgotten even as a half-finished square - possibly mistaken for a coaster - peeked out from beneath one of the mugs on the footstool. Tabs for four different webmail accounts, Google Drive and Dropbox and still more for a range of tools that were just part of what daily life had been before. There was a tab for HMRC, too, making clear that they’d not considered how to help people in her situation. The adjacent tab was inevitably a LinkedIn job search. 

It took a while for her to close down everything she considered superfluous, because the lure of the rabbit hole was still strong, and there was comfort to be found in wading through numbers and curves. She was so very used to reading the data and helping it tell the stories her clients needed to hear. Data didn’t generally lie or cheat, not if you set the source up properly: they had an integrity she appreciated all the more, given her reasons for detaching from digital life. Beyond email and craft sites there wasn’t much left open, the pressure to keep the tabs there, the need to be somehow always on and ready to respond curiously absent. The midday sun now starting to creep across her screen failed to raise even a flicker of annoyance, and she didn’t rise to adjust the blind so she could see, but to make a mug of tea that she took to the garden. She sat and let the sun bathe her closed eyelids as the cat settled against her thigh, listening to the birds and the drone of the year’s first bumblebees.