3 squiggly worms mushroom

Logging Off

Celine Nguyen

It’s now soft and dark outside. Your screen is a blazing window pushing shadows into the corners of your room. You’re acutely aware that you should be going to bed, but you read anyway.

The first post in the thread reads a bit like a diary entry. Some parts are intimately relatable, some less so. You linger on one particular sentence: I always see the phrases ‘eat local’ and ‘eat seasonally,’ but I know nothing about the world around me.

You scroll down and see the usual advice (go on walks; spend time in nature), but some replies have an unusual, strategic intensity:

bring_a_ruler This is normal IMO especially if you grew up in a suburban or urban area. Here’s a first step: go outside and bring a pair of clippers and a ruler. Start by learning one edible plant in your area and figure out where to find it!

myco_mouse You can definitely learn this stuff even if you’re not an outdoorsy person. Have you looked around the forum to get advice for your region? The first outing can feel intimidating, but there’s lots of advice on where to start and what’s safe to eat.

You scroll up to the top of the page and look at the forum logo: a stick figure with a huge smile and a bundle of plants in one hand. Next to it is the tagline: If we’re not here, we’re in nature. It is a foraging forum, you realize. Everyone else on the internet jokes about logging off; you wonder if these people actually do.

The next day you return to the forum. Work is unrelentingly monotonous right now and so, unfortunately, is your social life. You miss meeting new people, and reading the forum becomes a way to voyeuristically encounter strange, fascinating personalities. On a slow Wednesday, you retreat to a secluded corner of the office to read a 12 page thread titled, When is it okay to take fruit from someone else’s tree?

By page 8, there is an intricate, internecine debate on what qualifies as ‘stealing’ fruit or ‘foraging’ it. You lean forward and furrow your brow as you read, disguising your preoccupation as professional diligence. A coworker comes in, starts to say your name, and then discreetly retreats.

Everyone on this forum is so opinionated! Next, you read an ten-page discussion on the best sweat-wicking pants to wear while foraging in hot weather, followed by three pages on the merits of carrying tools in a pocket or a bag — a debate so banal it becomes fascinating.

You can’t quite understand why they’re so invested in these minute debates. But most of the users are gentle, enthusiastic, and relatable. Just like you, but with an incredible memory for botanical plant names.

A small stick of bamboo

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?