Trees vs. Internet, part 1

Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 2: 496.

Last week, the UN issued a report declaring Internet access a
basic human right.

This is well and good, but someone forgot to tell the giant swamp maple that is rooted outside my bedroom window.

For the past two and a half months, that maple, and all its friends, have been pollinating like there’s no tomorrow, coating everything in their path, in a frat-house level of spring bacchanalia. I happen to be highly allergic to the result, moreso than most years. Hiding and cringing and soldiering through usually work fine. Not so much this year. This year, that won me enough points to unlock a sinus-infection achievement level, as well as to turn my computer screens into portals of glare and pain. Allergy-related eyestrain is apparently on the rise everywhere, and I’m one of the poster children.

What that meant, even after I started to fight back against the trees with a whole lot of better living through chemistry (thanks for the love, big pharma.), was No Computers for me, except in very short bursts, for days and days.

This was torturous. I was cut off from my news feeds, from the writing tools I’ve grown accustomed to, from my friends and my favorite writers’ boards. I lacked a way to tell how much I was missing, in part because most of my information sources are so very removed from mainstream radio and television.

Occasionally, I’d dip back into twitter (while wearing sunglasses) and see the river of conversation, but not know what it meant. I’d check in on discussion boards and find hundreds of new posts. Then I’d know what I was missing.

In the meantime, I took my revenge. I’d weed. Miniature swamp maple trees, borne groundward from the giant anti-Internet tree in miniature helicopter-prop style seed pods had been deposited in piles on my lawn. Once down, they shot up one and two-leaved heads on my postage-stamp front yard, and I’d pile them up and show them to the tree before taking them to the yard trash pile. Revenge is good and satisfying.

It seems like the allergy meds are working better now, though I’m still wearing sunglasses as I type. I have more Internet time before my eyes feel dodgy. I’m ready to forgive that swamp maple, for now, but come next spring, it needs to behave itself a lot better.

What all this did make me wonder is if I disconnected, barely, for a week because it was hard for me to look at my screen, and felt completely on the outside of everything, how much further do we need to go to create accessible internets for everyone to be able to access the information that is, and should be, a basic human right?

Believe me, I know I’m far from the only one to ask this – some brilliant people are working on accessibility issues – but for those of us who forget (like me) sometimes that not everyone is able to see the 9pt verdana or enjoy the fancy full-color image, this is a good chance to poke at the problem.

I’m not just talking those in disadvantaged areas, without public access, or within repressive regimes. I’m talking about those with reduced vision, or who cannot use standard technology. While we’re carving out our shiny new world (with our shiny data feeds, and our shiny eBooks), who is making sure that there are alternatives?

The trees will attack again.  You know they will.



  1. The trees are mad at us for wrecking the balance of earth’s ecosystems with our shiny doo-dads.

    And I thought the Internet would make us less dependent upon infernal-combustion engines. Well, do as I did: steroids, Codeine, and lots of sleep.

    As for Net access as a basic human right: as a Neo-Luddite and Peak Oiler, I feel we’ll be busy enough in coming years learning how to grow food locally and live again without ready air conditioning that our constant contact online will become little more than a pleasant memory of more convenient, and more disconnected, times.

  2. Hah – yeah, they’re angry allright.

    You know where I’m finding my favorite container-gardening how-tos? On The Internet. So maybe we should find a way to preserve some of the links and connections… not just for convenience, but for education and cultural preservation. This is my thinking.

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