It's good to be back. Did I keep my promise to stay off the web? Almost. I don't count personal emails or the weather on the Cape, ok? I broke my pledge on torture and Levi, but some subjects demand dedicated attention even on vacation. We have no television here so I was also cable-free. Removed from this news cycle, I missed the moment when the punditariat shifted its narrative from The One to The Doomed, but since I never believed Obama was either of those, and since August turned sublime on the Cape in its second half, it didn't really penetrate my consciousness.
What did penetrate was the long-term cost to spending the majority of your waking hours on a laptop and modem communicating with people you rarely see, and processing reams and reams of stories and data at lightning speed morning, noon and night. I do not see the web as Leon Wieseltier does from the vantage point of his towering pedestal (who on earth approximates his lofty genius?), but I do see its dangers the longer I hang around in it. It took weeks to unwind enough to do the things I used to do with no real effort: socialize, chill, make new friends, catch up with old ones, let the mind wander, let the soul breathe with a little less concern for contemporaneity, read the paper because you're mildly interested in what's gong on in the wider world.
A few things made this possible: my editor, James Bennet, who gave me time off and gives me and this blog a freedom and support most writers would die for; Patrick and Chris, who have now close to put me out of a job, and maintained the Dishness like old-timers, and to the guest-bloggers who, I'm proud to say, represent some of the most fun and firepower on the web; I tried not to read the Dish while I was in detox, but whenever I surrendered, it felt like home. Thanks, thanks, thanks (especially to Chris and Patrick).
Which leads me to one small observation about this web experiment as it enters its tenth continuous year.
The Dish has evolved almost every day it has existed. I made this up as I've gone along, but along the way, some features lingered, others blossomed and a few expired. At the Atlantic, for the first time, I had interns, and those interns are now assistant editors (although "underblogger" is my preferred neologism), and the Dish's range of sources, ideas, images, videos, and information has grown and grown and grown with their help and yours.
What made these four weeks so satisfying was not just getting back my private life a little, but also noticing that this little page now has a life of its own: sustained by you, the readers, in a great conversation with some of the best minds out there in our fast-forming collective e-brain. I have no idea where this is headed - I have no plan but to keep pursuing the intimations - but I do know that on a journey like this, one of the most memorable moments is stopping up a long climbing hill and being surprised how far you've traveled, and how your fellow pilgrims are now carrying you along as well.
Thanks for still being there.