Just the other day Don Share posted on Twitter a link to a recording of Robert Frost reading ‘The Road Not Taken’. How wonderful to hear it in the poet’s voice. Here it is on YouTube:
Matthew Hollis, in his 2011 biography of Edward Thomas, Now All Roads Lead to France, tells of Thomas’s distress at this poem, taking it so personally, in fact, that it was the final push that sent him off to war (and his death). This, despite Frost trying to reassure him the poem wasn’t meant as an admonishment for Thomas’s (self-perceived) cowardice or indecision, but rather a very mixed message indeed, full of ironies and what the poet called ‘the fun of the thing’.
Then this morning I open up the latest email from Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings, to read another beautiful essay, this week on the topic of all our roads not taken – In Praise of Missing Out: Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on the Paradoxical Value of Our Unlived Lives.
In this early internet age of ‘fear of missing out’ – one of the truly troubling aspects of social media – the idea of being haunted by the road not taken, or the lives we might have lived or perhaps we feel we ought to be living, seems extraordinarily relevant.
As Philips puts it, “We have an abiding sense, however obscure and obscured, that the lives we do lead are informed by the lives that escape us,” going on to argue that our ‘wished for’ or fantasy lives, the ones we could have/might have lived, are as much a part of us as our real lives, and as Popova says, “the most ideal of these missed-out-on experiences reveal a great deal about the realest aspects of our lives.”
This is a fascinating read which got me thinking about so many aspects of online behaviour, not just FOMO or how the medium seems to fan the flames of envy, but also the holding power of online communities, fantasy worlds and games. I wrote an academic paper on the subject fifteen years ago entitled ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’ – props to the first person to tell us in the comments what song that line comes from!