Solitude and Presence: Photo Reflections on Natural and Digital Ecologies

My academic work, which touches on media, religion, and digital culture, is all the richer for having spent countless hours walking, sitting, and reflecting in the small oasis that we’ve come to call home.

Intro

It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that I live in a cold, damp, over-sized mailbox. For over a year I, along with my wife and six-year-old daughter, have rented a small, oddly shaped house nestled among fifteen acres of private land in Durham, New Hampshire. My acceptance of a position at the nearby university brought us from the densely populated suburbs of Manhattan to the Seacoast area of the state. Our landlord, a former NASA engineer, built the house with recycled materials and appliances, striving at every turn for energy efficiency.

“I always wanted to live in an airplane hangar,” he explained proudly as he led us toward a path that cut into the surrounding forest. Our lingering doubts about the unusual house vanished into crisp New England air as we stepped further into the playfully-named Ejarque National Forest and imagined our family’s new, year-round playground. Sixteen months later, our doubts about the house itself have returned, having suffered the minor annoyances of drafty doors, frozen pipes, dripping light fixtures, and a slippery-as-an-ice-rink driveway. But the forest never lost its draw, and in fact has become an unexpected source of insight for my teaching and research. My academic work, which touches on media, religion, and digital culture, is all the richer for having spent countless hours walking, sitting, and reflecting in the small oasis that we’ve come to call home.

While I generally prefer to leave my phone behind, I occasionally bring it with me to capture images and videos of this lightly-traveled piece of land. Metaphorically, however, many of these images capture key concepts behind my own evolving critique of digital culture: silence and solitude, presence and place, among others. The following reflections represent an early foray into an approach that I call contemplative media studies: the application of contemplative principles and practices to the critical analysis of media technologies, content, and institutions.

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