aNewDomain — What does the Internet weigh?
This was an article in Discover back in 2007 with that question as its headline. That seems like a long time ago now, but way back in 07 someone actually wanted to weigh the Internet, to weigh all the electrons zooming around that make up all the data we see.
They came up with a weight so tiny that it was hard to even represent it in numbers. The author wrote:
“Taking Holliday’s 40-petabyte figure and plugging it into the same formula that we worked out for our 50-kilobyte e-mail results in a grand total of 1.3 x 10-8 pound. At last, after much scribbling (and perhaps a little cursing), we had our answer: The weight of the Internet adds up to just about 0.2 millionths of an ounce.”
But what is the weight of sadness?
Sadness can’t be represented as a mass or a weight in numbers for an entirely different reason: because it’s not a thing. But every human being knows too well how sadness can drag you down, make you heavy and slow your steps. We all know how sadness weighs on our very thoughts — and it does it so heavily that is might as well be a backpack full of lead.
So what does sadness weigh?
Yesterday was pretty great here at the Breckinridge psychotherapy retreat I’m attending. There, I led a reflection, an exercise, an exercise in sadness.
As part of it, I shared some of my writing and my writing process, and I talked about how important it is for me to cry in that writing practice.
And I cried for people, too. So, when they did their own work, by and large they also wrote things that made them tearful. It was an amazing experience of trust, like a trust fall over hot coal.
Some of the participants were able to reveal what they had written, which allowed them to actually hear the genuine love from the people who heard what they’d created. Others, because of time, really, had to keep their papers hidden. But the tear tracks I saw running through makeup and dusty faces told the whole story, really.
As the group broke up, I asked participants to pay attention to the appearance of colors — and also to the quality of laughter as we went through later experiences.
Come lunchtime, the conversation was buoyant, ebullient even. And it was bordering on the raucous, too, in a way it had not been on any of the other days.
We did not produce sadness in our session.
It was always there, always with us. We did not become sad; we already were. Our outward affect at the beginning of the group was a mix of colors: red, green, blue, yellow, purple… we focused on the blue, talked about it, tried it on, wore it around.
Intellectualized it, yeah, but also lived blue. Experienced and vivified it.
All the other colors seemed to fade.
Blue washed out the world for our time together.
Then, when this job of work was done, this piece of exultant weeping, the heaviness of grief that had always been there, on our shoulders, was lessened.
Not permanently, not gone completely, but lessened. And then all the other aspects of our emotional lives had more room. Sadness wasn’t begging for our attention anymore.
It had been gazed at, acknowledged, loved and now could back away a pace. So we laughed, saw the bright colors, even sang.
The blue will creep back in, of course it will. And what good would life be without it? What kind of person never feels sad? But sadness and joy are essentially the same thing. We lived the sadness and now we can live the joy, for a little while.
Maybe that’s why we like sad movies so much. We go to tear-jerkers, give up some salt from our eyes, and return to real life with some of that weight set aside, if only for an hour or a day. And sadness is like your inbox at work. In the morning, when it’s full and overflowing, you can’t face it.
It’s only when you’re all caught up that it seems sane to look at the next piece of work and the next, to not rush through sadness in a panic but to dwell on the import of this moment, of this heavy sigh, of this unexpected tear.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.