Poppop’s jeejah showing a critical text message from his son, Jack. Photo by Dana Wilde

As this weird, weird pandemic (among other things) year comes to an end, there’s been a lot of chaotic discussion about our relationship to technology. For my own part, I feel like I’m living in a science fiction novel.

My 4-year-old grandson seems more at home in screens and keyboards than I am. Not that I’m literally from another planet. But the distance from here to the 1970s — much of which I remember like yesterday — seems to be expanding at a cosmological rate.

I was thinking about my first jeejah. My wife, Bonnie, got it for me one July Fourth, Independence Day, and set about teaching me to use it. It turned out to do all kinds of things I used to be able to do before I got it. Make phone calls, surf the internet, play music tracks, take photos. It also displayed actual text if I felt like reading, although it seemed to think this was an improbable impulse because the type on its 2-by-4 inch screen was too tiny to make out without an app for an electron microscope.

My jeejah now does other things I did not know how to do before and am not sure why I want to now, though everybody in my house wants me to do them. For example, it can link into satellites that will tell me exactly where I am anytime I want to know. Like, if I am standing in my backyard next to the ash tree and want to know where I am, I can fire up my jeejah, tap a bunch of screen lights — sometimes you have to tap them two or three times before they wake up — and my jeejah screen tells me exactly where I am. Awesome. (True story: Once I was sitting near the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor and asked the jeejah where I was, and it told me I was at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital. Not sure how to interpret this.)

And not only that, when I go into where-am-I-now mode, my jeejah also starts telling other people exactly where I am, too. Double awesome, because then Bonnie can tell I am not at the park, but home. Also cops who might be wondering what I’m doing can look on their own jeejahs, pinpoint exactly where I am and take a good guess at what I might be doing, and then if they feel the need they can drive right to where I am with no hassle, pick me up and throw me in jail. Or, even better, I can head off the confusion by asking my jeejah where the Waldo County Jail is, following the directions there and turning myself in, saving the cops the hassle of coming to get me, and me the anxiety of wondering when they are going to show up in my yard.

Neither the jeejah nor the cops (as far as I can tell) knows that my backyard is a little Starhenge and my Shed is a little library where for years I have been practicing theorics without a jeejah. I guess neither the jeejah nor the cops cares about the theorics as long as the practice does not involve illicit drugs, burglary or terrorism — which it doesn’t by the way, just to be clear. The only thing that might make them uneasy is that it does not require a jeejah, and this is where the possibility of exoplanetary origins seeps in.

I’m on pretty good terms with the spiders around my yard, and there are a lot of them, of many different kinds. Worldwide there are as many as 190,000 species of spiders (most of them unidentified, hmm), but none of them are, in scientific terms, aquatic. This has led some conspiracists to speculate that spiders did not evolve out of water-based environments, like practically every other living thing on Earth, but instead might be aliens who came to Earth on stray comets or pieces of other planets. (A process known as “panspermia.”)

I’m not saying spiders are literally from other planets. But spiders can’t run jeejahs either. Whether they practice arachnid theorics, I wish I knew. (For an idea of what this might look like if they did, see Adrian Tchaikovsky’s book “Children of Time.”) But I do wonder what would happen — in the same way the Singularity people want someday to plug near-sentient computers into their brains — if you plugged a near-sentient computer into a house spider’s brain.

What kind of awesome would transpire from that, I wonder. Personally I would not like to live in a computer, or have a computer living in me and forming a human-jeejah reticulum where I would be tapping only the imaginary lights of my own screen mind and being eternally at one with the whereabouts of the county jail.

Anyway, I’ve got my jeejah working. My grandson Silas, who calls me Poppop, can find videos of dinosaurs on it much quicker than I can. So far I can’t tell if he thinks the videos are of real dinosaurs, the way other videos are of real tigers. He seems to have a very good grip on the difference between fiction and reality, though. Better than many adults in this weird, vast, active, living intelligence system of a story we seem to inhabit.

Sometimes I go into text-messaging sessions with Silas’s dad, Jack. When that happens, I essentially live there in the screen for a little while. Then when I finally lift my eyes and re-notice the sun and a breeze and ash leaves clattering right there nearby all along even though I was aware only of tiny little glowing microscopic letters and words and the skeletal jeejah-speak voice generated miles away by Jack, I feel like I have re-emerged into a whole different world.

Outside the jeejah, which is rapidly becoming here, it’s like another planet. To me there is no there there. But there it is. It’s hard to remember what life was like before devices, but it was. A long time ago, far, far away.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His recent book is “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine.” Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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