Experts say you should have no more than nine Internet browser tabs open at one time, but I feel much like St. Augustine: “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” In an attempt to be more virtuous and productive, I just culled 23 browser tabs on my phone to eight (most of them recipes, creative writing journals I plan on submitting to, random holiday gift ideas for my daughter–a toddler t-shirt which proclaims, ‘Never underestimate the power of a woman,’ the Radio Flyer Ultimate All-Terrain Stroll ‘N Trike in red, personalized superhero capes on Etsy, et cetera).
In all honesty, I have not yet pruned the 15 tabs on my work computer, though. By the end of the day, I will, of course, close Chrome with the powering down of yet another work day (and by “of course,” I mean, “I really hope so”). That final act of shutting down is as close as I will ever come to wiping a slate clean.
But, I also wonder if the tabs we linger on, hold onto say something more about who we are, who we aspire to be, and what we hope to read, accomplish, or decide in a given day. The optimist in me is vigorously shaking her happy head up and down, but the realist in me frets that Alexandra Samuel is onto something when she writes about our collective need to hoard narratives and information, like squirrels and, well, humans: “If you printed all the articles I left open in my browser for more than 24 hours, you’d have enough paper to crush me flat within a matter of weeks.”
Samuel goes on to explore the process of archiving personal collections in the digital era, which sends my poet brain (what I endearingly call those weird, associative leaps) to Pompeii, where National Geographic reports on how archaeologists’ research has overly centered on the public buildings and villas of the city frozen in volcanic ash instead of “how the other 98 percent of people lived.”
Should our lives and laptops be halted in time, to be studied at a later date, with the information our browsers held somehow resurrected and considered, I feel confident anthropologists would glean much from our own “humble town block” on the Internet. Tell me what is on your browser tabs, and I will tell you who you are.
Do I really need to explain who I am, what I value when you read the following?
- Recipe for Olive Oil Brownies with Sea Salt from The New York Times Cooking section
- Dr. Dre Describes Burning Man in a Handwritten Letter from 1995
- “Browser Tab Clutter is the New Hoarding” by Alexandra Samuel of JSTOR Daily
- Letters from Santa, U.S. Postal Service site
- “Did a Rave Review Really Shut Down Portland Burger Bar Stanich’s? Maybe It Was the Owner’s Legal Troubles?” by Matthew Singer in the Willamette Week
- Yo Yo Ma’s Bach Six Cello Suites via BBC’s Proms 2015
Of course, of those browser tab snippets are just a curated snapshot of my browser history. I do not hold up the sad days where I log into my checking account, willing my paycheck to hit sooner than it is scheduled to cover daycare, groceries, our mortgage, student loans, soon a new heater, and new shoes for my daughter’s ever-growing feet. I do not remain on the credit union tab. It is far easier to simply close it and move on.
No, the tabs I keep open are the ones I wish to return to. Is that not what most of us do? We, of the modern-day zibaldone, instinctively gather recipes, favorite quotes, and astonishing stories. Our desire to hold on, to remember, is not a disease so much as a reflex born of hope to be a better, purer version of ourselves.