Bandwidth

A word I’ve found myself using a lot lately is “bandwidth.” As in, the signal frequency spectrum as an analogy for the limits of what I can do or pay attention to. People I care for plus responsibilities I am committed to plus the exigencies and adaptations of a challenging period of time have all summed lately to a situation in which my bandwidth is mostly full, most of the time.

So be it. Our bandwidth—the capacity to mentally engage—is a resource given to us to use and use fully, like all our capacities. I am only now learning how much bandwidth I really have and how luxuriously I have indulged it in ages past. I see this in remembering both activities and concerns that I marvel now to think used to receive my time, energy, and attention. There is nothing special in this. I think everyone who gets older along the typical trajectory must pass through a season in which the previous seasons look this way.

For me, part of the evidence of consumed bandwidth is how long this blog has sat fallow. I am surprised to discover that a year has passed since I’ve posted something here. A year! (Note added later: This no longer appears to be the case. After this post, I made the decision to start posting all my writing to this blog, and I populated the blog accordingly with links to other pieces I have written this year. I wrote about that change here.

But writing is a high-bandwidth pursuit. Writing something optional and exploratory is higher-bandwidth still. Writing is thinking, but more than that, it is multichannel thinking. It is not just giving voice to the stream of one channel or frequency, which would be nearer to transcription. It is instead drawing on the stream or sensation of one frequency and finding the way it adds color, value, or dimension to the content of the signal at a different frequency. Writing is thus signal coupling, resonance, amplification. It requires bandwidth because the width of the band falls silent in order to draw out the harmony found between these disparate pulses.

I can turn away from this blog. There are no sponsors here, no obligations. Apparently, I do turn away. Yet I come back, because I don’t ever see writing like this—personal, non-obligatory writing—as one of those bandwidth indulgences I marvel at out of a different period of time. The blog is instead an attempt at an expression of art, the sort of art I’ve been given, and that places it in a different context. In fact, that places it in a different context from all the rest of what fills the band, because in the different way it searches the spectrum, it offers another way and something more to find even when the bandwidth is full.

Indeed, “bandwidth” as the analogy described here is limited. The thing to which it refers, the signal spectrum, is one-dimensional. The only axis is its width. To be sure, the analogy is fitting as far as it goes—a key question, for instance, concerns where I am directing the receiver. Am I filling my bandwidth with the right signals? Yet for this analogy to work better, we would need to be able to speak of “band depth” also—a different dimension of reception, signals along a different axis. I need to keep finding my way back to this, as I suspect you need to keep finding your way back to the sort of art given to you, because even when our bandwidth is full and filled well, there are these other signals to be found.