When you check your phone you have three notifications: your Amazon delivery is arriving today, Uber Eats is giving you $20 off for the weekend, and your best friend Alice is in distress. I’m doing this quiz and it’s making me rethink my life tbh. A minute later, she sends another text: It’s asking me if I know any edible plants in our area. I’m not sure if I even know the difference between oregano and thyme at the grocery store.
She found the quiz in a novel she was reading. It’s supposed to measure how grounded you are in the natural world, how rooted you are in place. She sends you a few of the questions:
What was the total rainfall in your area last year (July–June) in inches? (Ten? Twenty? You look outside the window and try to imagine twenty inches of water swelling into the soil.)
How long is the growing season where you live? (You’ve never grown anything. Maybe a bit of mold at the back of the fridge.)
What were the primary subsistence techniques of the people that lived in your area before you? (This is also an enormous, looming mystery. Of course you’ve seen land acknowledgments printed on websites and flyers, read out before events. But knowing just a name feels pale and insignificant.)
What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live? (You’ve never known their names, and in any case it’s rare that you come across a wildflower.)
The quiz has 20 questions. You can’t answer any of them.
When you walk outside, you find a world that is newly unfamiliar. You pass under the dappled shade of a tree in front of your apartment building — is this native or non-native to the area?
After a few blocks, you stop by a well-tended park where two children, exuberant and shrill, are running through the grass. Pollen tickles your nose and you sneeze. Your phone buzzes and you sneeze again. The pollen, too, is of mysterious provenance.
When you return home, you search: How do you get more in touch with nature? As the results load, you instinctively unlock your phone and open Twitter. Celebrities are tweeting regrettable things and then apologizing for them. When you look up from your phone and remember what you were searching for, twenty minutes have passed.
The listicles on page one give way to spiritual advice (page 2), parenting advice (page 3), and pop-psych advice (page 4). On the fifth page of results, you click into a site that looks like an old-school internet forum, with shades of blue and gray that feel decidedly dated. It’s a discussion titled, Getting more in touch with the seasons?
Celine Nguyen is a designer, design historian, and writer. She is an MA student in History of Design at the V&A Museum/Royal College of Art, where her research considers contemporary web aesthetics and their relationship to our ecological world. Right now, she wants to know: what does degrowth look like for the web?