Good morning, Apple. I squint into the magic rectangle for my sunrise elixir: news, email, and social media. I twitch my thumb around for fifteen minutes, mostly opening and closing apps. Eventually this process enables me to stand up. I change into my work-from-home clothes and sit down at my computer to write an academic article on the vices of Socrates’s interlocutors. What prevented them from genuinely wondering with Socrates? Why couldn’t they sincerely reflect on their lives?
I check my email again; something might have changed. Someone sent me an article, so I click the link and am transported to a site framed with ads for athletic shorts—I had wanted some shorts. I feel a jolt of excitement and jump to Amazon. The homepage promotes—Bah-ding.
Another email. Outlook suggests a reply for me. Not today, Big Tech. I rebelliously type my reply the old-fashioned way. Then I grab my phone to celebrate the victory. I swipe through pictures of my toddler. I love being a dad, but Daddy needs to work. So I close out of my pictures and scroll through Outlook on my phone. Outlook is also up on my laptop, so I switch to the bigger screen. I should really file—shorts! Jeez. I need to look at shorts so I can start work.
I didn’t buy any shorts, but I have some good options for later. Now to business: Why didn’t Socrates’s interlocutors get it? Well, for one, they were always in a hurry. Socratic dialogues typically crescendo in aporia—a moment “without” (a-) “passage” (-poria)—in which his “victims” are bewildered. In these moments, the victims (conveniently) remember they have somewhere else to be. The reason—Ding.
I reply to a text—well, I try to. I endlessly delete and retype, then I table it for later. Reading Plato’s Euthyphro is a strain this time; not nearly as entertaining as my average Twitter-scroll. You might remember Euthyphro as the guy who claimed to know what piety was or, more specifically, that turning in his own father for murder was the right thing to do. Yeah, probably the right move. But the problem was Euthyphro didn’t understand why it was the right move. He never stopped to ask himself: “Am I doing the right thing? Am I living a good life?” That level of reflection was low on his to-do list. Euthyphro was a busy—Bee-do.
No, I do not want to install the latest software update. Focus. Yes, Euthyphro doesn’t get it because he is restless. Aporia asks him to slow down, to be still, to listen for an answer or maybe even for another question. But he can’t do it. He is allergic to aporia. Busy people don’t have time for that beard-stroking, skygazing nonsense. I get it, Euthyphro. Contemplation is a luxury for the idle and unimportant.
I wonder, is my habitual indecision like aporia? No. I think my indecision is the result of jarring transparency: I see all the options. My world is made-to-order and the menu is longer than the Bible. But aporia is the opposite: a blanketing fog. It forces one to make camp and wait for the sky to clear. Still, some people like camping. I used to. But now I like options, and I get anxious without them. That’s aporia for you: a big anxious fog. Well, the fog itself is not anxious (I know that), but how am I supposed to feel when the fog makes me slow and inefficient?
In Celtic lore, fog is an occasion for wonder, hiding unicorns and whatnot. Lies, of course. I’ve been to the Highlands; it was beautiful, though the trip was chaperoned by the lens of my iPhone. But I can imagine being there without my phone. I recall ruddy mountains outlined in the clouds. The sun, a nascent white dot behind gray-green haze. A mist crawls toward me across swirling, orange heather. Dew thickens the air and fat puffs of vapor rise and fall with my breath. I can’t move forward until it’s clear. I wait, admiring the slow dance of billows. I unclench my jaw and unfurrow my brow. And, to my surprise, I smile. Optionless. Mystified. Am I living a good life? The question tip-toed in with the fog. The answers don’t rush at me. Instead, they gently materialize in the watery air ahead of me. They are blurry. I reach out—Buzz Buzz.
My Apple watch reminds me to stand up. I stare blankly, paralyzed. My hand mechanically reaches for my phone. No. I force it into my pocket and walk to the kitchen. I come back with fuel. I sit back down to—shorts!
Rich Eva is a philosophy PhD candidate at Baylor University.
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Image by ryan lee licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.