Wednesday, October 25, 2006

20 Questions About the Internet

1. How strange it is to be nostalgic at age 32! And yet, I remember belonging to so many small communities back in those golden days around 1992- political groups, book clubs, theatre troupes, and weekly potlucks! What happened to all of them? Half of them are now Yahoo! groups! I recently discussed this with an older and wiser friend who told me that he remembers running into people in his poetry circle about ten years ago who would tell him what books they were currently reading. Now, they don't show up for the poetry readings, and the few that do show up, aren't reading any books currently. Why do people keep telling me about "ten years ago"?

2. What happened? Did we trade an eye for an ear, and then turn around and pawn the rest of the body? We keep getting ripped off, don't we?

3. But, seriously, folks (although never quite seriously) did we get anything meaningful in return for moving out of the physical world and into cyberspace? Was it a good move? Did we move out of the old country and into a new one in which you can never leave the house safely or smell onions cooking? Are we living in the slums?

4. At age 23, I decided to find out where the best hot dogs are in America. After a few years, and several Greyhound trips, I settled on Philadelphia. Most of my friends disagree with me on that. If I had been born later, I could have googled this and known the answer in five minutes.

5. The Internet puts a world of information at your fingertips- what a horrible existence that must be!

6. Imagine never having explored, or searched, or wandered, or probed. Imagine instead having always accessed. We will educate the first generation that never had reason to be curious.

7. Imagine a life in which wandering was replaced by accessing, and romance was replaced by hooking-up (or plugging in. I forget). How flattened you affect would be, how shallow your understanding of the world.

8. Imagine a world in which there was nothing beneath the surface of your fingertips. Nothing that you had to dig into the soil to touch. No mystery. No hidden places.

9. Without wandering and curiosity, does being-in-the-world still exist? Has the snythetic gnosticism of the computer age made our existence cursory at best?

10. The sage has no name. But, techgnosis is not safe for everyone. Remember the monk whose legs fell off as he sat around gaining enlightenment!

11. Are we enlightened yet? We're definitely not getting any lighter! The philosophes talked of reason as a sort of intellectual self-determination. This would seem to exclude "googling".

12. One gained an independent existence by applying this intellectual faculty to the things of the world. In doing so, one was no longer beholden to the ideas of others. How often can you read a blog and find an original idea?

13. I define curiosity as the active intellectual pursuit of novelty. I mean this to be a precise definition.

14. By intellectual, I also mean erotic. I do not have in mind Socrates sitting around and dreaming of the forms until his legs fall off! Nietzsche said that thinking should be a form of dancing. I have in mind active pursuit- Rousseau's Emile, wandering in a field! Sophie too!

15. Let's be honest, I speak of the exact opposite of what we offer in most courses- which tend more towards the bureaucratization of thought.

16. But also, perhaps the opposite of what the public wants. This is a generation that has never had the time or the patience to wonder. No wandering in a field for them! Many spend 30-50 hours a week "on-line". Information is a commodity for them. Truth has no metaphysical value because it's a matter of customer choice. Catholic or athiest? Conservative or Liberal? Regular or Extra-crispy? Paper or plastic? We can all be Marie Antoinette for a day and play at being a shepherdess in an electronic field, and soon a magnetic field.

17. Philip Reiff spoke of spending a month trapped in a sentence. To see the world in a grain of sand! So many more people see the world as a grain of sand! Is there such a thing as "sacred knowledge" any more? And, if not, what in the world are we doing as teachers? Couldn't we be replaced by computers or temps? Isn't that what's happening anyway?

18. The Internet is only a tool- like an axe. Although I suspect that my axe and Lizzy Borden's axe might have some differences.

19. Curiosity provoked the first fall from the Garden of Eden. It brought us into the world. No wonder Augustine had a problem with it! But, it made us human, or at least, it made us aware of our fallen nature as humans. The Internet could have saved us from being-in-the-world. Eve could have googled the "fruit of knowledge". Her actions could have been innocent because utterly meaningless.

20. If kitsch is the absolute denial of shit (pace Kundera), then we have entered the Kingdom of Kitsch. Truth is irrelevant. Metaphysics are an old wive's tale. Culture is vestigial. Thought is tourism. We are surrounded by our own small narrowcast of admirers. Marie Antoinette had nothing on us. But, are the corporeal-world peasants preparing their guillotines?


Hiromi said...

Out of curiosity, have you read Bowling Alone?

Rufus said...

No, but it sounds like I should from the title.

The Pagan Temple said...

I think you are overrating the amount of actual worthwhile knowledge availiable on the internet. It's there, but you wave to wade through a ton of garbage to get to it. Your point is well taken, though. Knowledge derived from the internet, no matter how valuable, is not a fitting substitute for real life experience.

Hiromi said...

Well, I don't think the author's view is the same as yours or anything. The cartoon version of the author's, Robert Putnam's, view is that Americans are spending less time in voluntary associations like bowling leagues, and in the end, this is bad for democracy. Bill Clinton read this book and made a big deal out of it years ago.

Rufus said...

Well, I do agree that democracy's ailing right now. What's fascinating to me is how many clubs that I used to belong to, and socialize through, that are now Yahoo! groups, or Myspace groups or whatever. It's good that people keep in touch. But, it's also nice to have real food and real conversations with people. I've had a number of people comment to me that it's almost impossible to get people together for clubs anymore, and I've found the same thing to be true. Even just for potlucks. Parties are still okay, although I think we need a lot more of them!

PT: Yeah, there sure is a lot of crap on the Internet. It can be quite a quest to find some worthwhile stuff there. But, yeah, you're right- the Internet quest is significantly different from a real-world quest.