So, I've been pretty quiet lately. I think I'm suffering from "Blogger's Fatigue", otherwise known as the "Hey, look at how interesting the off-line world is!" syndrome. I've been walking around Hamilton a lot, reading a number of great books, and spending time with my girls. Each time that I come back on-line, it seems a little less interesting.
Part of it was my (characteristic) high expectations and the (inevitable) let-down of reality. The Internet was, ideally, a place where like-minded people could meet each other and find a world of people like themselves. But, the thing is, the world itself is not made up of people like ourselves, and that's what's interesting, and wonderful, about it. I often have better conversations with friends and family and strangers than I do on-line. People who are like me find me on-line, and we find that we agree about a lot of things. But, when everyone agrees with you, you don't really grow in any way.
Of course, here comes the big disclaimer (fine print: Rufus is totally full of shit), because, dear readers, I indeed met my wife on the Internet. I couldn't possibly suggest that there's nothing real about Internet relationships because we have the deepest, most meaningful relationship in my life. But, I'd be a fool to say that it wasn't a lot better when we met off-line. However, without the net, a Virginia boy and a Canadian girl would never have met.
Without letters, my grandfather and grandmother would never have met. He was in the Pacific as a radio operator on a submarine, and she was a girl who knew somebody who knew somebody, who knew somebody who had a son who was fighting overseas and needed a pen-pal. Through the written word, they got to know each other and fell in love, and the rest is history.
So, I can't begrudge on-line communities, but here's the rub- they're not the same as real communities. Oh, of course, they meet the criteria of being "people within a society who share the same interests". That is accepting that they often are not within the same society. But, they're more akin to "the sci-fi community" than to "the Downtown community". They are not, by definition, social.
And there is something intellectually and spiritually unhealthy about a lack of the social dimension. This need to shut out the world is depressing. I have students who have the I-Pod going whenever they are in public situations, and the cell-phone going whenever they want a break from the I-Pod. Narrowcasting one's life is not liberating, or enriching, or rewarding- it is none of the things, in fact, that technology's hagiographers promised. Notice how many cell phone adverts promise that they will bring people together, while widespread cell phone use actually hollows out the public sphere of social interaction. I remember when I was 21 picking up a girl on the subway line- is this even possible anymore?
And do we all need to have a court, replete with courtiers to flatter and agree with us? Have you ever looked into just how stupid the aristocracy actually was? There's something about talking on-line that seems akin to talking to oneself. You hope to find the give-and-take of active intellectual debate. But, how rare it actually is here! You start finding that most people come here to get away from the give-and-take of social reality. They blog from their bully pulpits and read on-line news sites that agree with them. The intellectual immaturity of many Bloganderthals is an open secret at this point, but where exactly has everyone else gone?
And is there anything intellectually engaging about the world being "at your fingertips"? Isn't that a bit depressing? Imagine if Dorothy had been able to Google "Oz", and so had never wanted to leave Kansas. Imagine if you taught children all day, many of whom seem to have no real interest in ever going anywhere, or searching for anything. "What's the point?" Curiosity should burn. It should drive you further onward. Faust would have never gone on-line.
The world should be explored, not accessed.
Imagine that you saw the Internet Generation's almost total inability to read and understand a document of more than 200 words displayed in front of you every single day, while being constantly told that this thing is "a learning tool". Or that you saw the consensus effect of like-mindless individuals sharing a spiraling paranoia while being told that this is a "communication tool". McLuhann once said that we make our tools, and then they make us.
And yet, the joys of the Internet include getting to hear about the lives of interesting and warm-hearted people like Daisy, and Brett and Hiromi, and Simon, and Rae, and Becky, and, of course, my wife. I love getting to learn about bird migration, and the inner workings of the human body and the Coptic bibles. And, sadly, while I do spend less time here, I don't think I could really go "cold turkey" professionally or personally. Grad student madness will go on... Perhaps a little less frequently.
But, the thing is, the machine goes where I want it to go... And so it never goes anywhere truly unexpected. I've tried, time and again, to replicate on-line the experience of finding a beguiling and mysterious book in a used book store. And it never really happens. Oh, that isn't to say that I ever expected to find a kick-ass Chicago librarian, or an intellectually engaged panty-loving couple from Texas (for God's sake!) or a beautiful and brilliant woman from Canada (for God's sake!) who totally changed my life. But, I can account for how I found those things. I can't account for how I fell in love with a little overactive cat. Or how I discovered a Convenience/ Novelties store down the street from me (Not to mention "Blades & Things"!). Or, the feeling of rain on my face. Or even the smell of coffee. Is it possible to describe the smell of coffee? The accidental poetry of the Internet seems a lot harder to find after three years here. Yet, I find it within seconds just looking out my window.
I think I need the mysterious and ineffable back in my life. I think I need the tactile, and the surprising things, and even those empty pauses in which nothing happens, or at least, nothing that I can explain. I think I need to be lost and confused and engaged and present again. The point of everything I've ever written about the death of curiosity is this:
We need to wander, and err, and get lost to be truly human.
And so I do.