Come alive, step away from the screen

March 14, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 6
Aiden Enns |

I know how to make biscotti. I follow a recipe and it turns out fine. I like to add extra cranberries or raisins to make it chewy and give it a little tang. This is something I can make with confidence.

So why did I sit through a 10-minute Internet video on how to make biscotti? Part of it was to see if I was making it “right.” After all, I’ve never had lessons in making biscotti. The person on the screen was my virtual mother in the kitchen, teaching me how to cook. I guess it felt maternal, comforting.

I also like being able to replay parts I don’t understand, or turn it off if I want. In this case I got bored when she was cutting up the log of dough into slices and, one by one, placing them on the parchment paper on her cookie sheet. I skimmed ahead to see how they looked when they came out of the oven.

I admit I was fascinated as I watched this person make biscotti. Her counters were so clean! It was so quiet and calm; the glass bowl clinked when she set it on the slab of dark granite. It was all so easy and smooth.

Then I entered my kitchen and looked at our wooden counter loaded with a telephone, radio, note pad, pen, stray notes, kettle, cutting board, sugar bowl and dishes of salt and pepper. Suddenly my unmediated life felt flat and heavy. Burdensome.

I thought it too daunting to make biscotti. I wanted to make a coffee and sit around instead. But that was stupid thinking! I had made biscotti several times before and it was easy.

I trudged through the inertia of inactivity and got out the ingredients. I set out the bowls, mixer and spatula. After whipping the sugar and eggs into a yellow froth, I added the mix of dry ingredients, then finally folded in the nuts and berries, sprinkled some flour on the counter and formed the dough.

I thought my “mother” on the computer was silly when she used a ruler to measure the length of the log. But when I got to that point I wondered if this was 30 centimetres? I got my tape from the shop; it was close enough. I set the log on a greased cookie sheet and put it in the oven. I let it cool, then sliced and baked it further on each side, to make it dry and crunchy.

When I placed the 20 slices one by one on the rack to cool, I was not bored like I was watching that step on the video. On the contrary, I was excited. Indeed, I was proud of what I had made. Or maybe I was proud that I had actually made something.

This unmediated, do-it-yourself approach to life is experiencing a welcome resurgence. Some, like Michael Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry, take a techno Sabbath and unplug the Internet every weekend. Others, like the folks at Adbusters magazine, promote a digital detox week.

The reasons are several: philosophical (Cyber reality is inferior), psychological (I want my life back), social (We’re alienated from each other), and economic (They profit from our distractions).

For me, it’s also a spiritual practice. To step away from the barrage of mediated messages requires intention, focus and effort. I feel more alive. Perhaps that’s because I’m reconnecting with the ineffable, with “life itself.”

Aiden Enns welcomes your feedback and ideas. He is a member of Hope Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, and co-editor of Geez magazine. He can be reached at

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Reading this just made me take a deep breath, inhaling the smell of beef bones roasting in the oven for broth and remembering that I can do this. Indeed, I feel more alive when I actually participate in creating rather than watch others do so.

Thanks for the reminder.

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