Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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on connectivity

This morning I random surfed for a few moments after waking up far too early. Other recent mornings, I seem to pull up journals written in cyrillic scripts I can't decipher, as if the entirety of LiveJournal has moved to one of the former Soviet republics. Today, though, was a domestic consumption day. I read journals with high art and great photography, journals with casual jokes about shooting sprees, and one journal that someone said was a 9/11 victim's last entry.

Reading the journals by students, as well as those by folks just out of college a year or two, makes me wonder what life would have been like had internet access been widely used when I was that age. Of course, the "internet" existed when I was 21 (although not the worldwide web), but it was essentially a message transmission systems among universities--we all knew it existed, but it was not something to write home about. I feel intrigued to have seen new information technology "come into being". I remember a time when the easiest way to calculate certain equations was with a slide rule, although by the time I was twenty or so, this was no longer the case. I remember going to a science camp when I was fifteen. We wrote programs in the Fortran computer programming language. We had to meticulously type each program instruction on a separate keypunch card, and then load stacks of these computer cards into a mainframe to run the simplest programs. This was true through most of my college years; I remember taking a course in COBOL (and doing miserably, but that's another story) in the summer between college and law school, and waiting in line to run my decks of cards through the system. The print out generated would have all these little error flags to highlight problems.

I think that eccentric people, of whom I am willing and often proud to count myself among the Chosen, used to have much a much more difficult time finding kindred spirits than is the case with the internet. The outlets that existed for folks to link up tended to be "narrowcast" by hobby interests. Outside universities, where offbeat spirits gravitate like lost souls awaiting a rapture, meeting people of like interests was so very hard. A newly met friend with similar reading lists who smiled at the same jokes was an entry into the gates of Heaven.

I think things are much easier now, largely due to the internet.
If I wish to meet a fellow, say, who likes poetry about chess, I can use google and locate a half dozen in roughly fifteen minutes. From there, it is just a matter of an e mail and a little commonality. I wonder if the kids who have *always* had the internet since they have been 15 appreciate how different their interaction has been than those of us who remember feeling like the spotted one in a multitude of striped ones. I believe that the internet showed mass marketing culture, for better and worse, that the spotted folk were everywhere, they're just not joiners. Now we live in a positively spotted world.

This "connectivity" that the internet, and LiveJournal specifically, gives is very appealing to me. I will not belabor the difference between cyberlife and mundanelife here, although I think they are different in many qualities. I am one of the camp that does not worry about whether this "cyberconnectivity" is real, but instead just assumes it is different---not better, not worse, just not the same.

I think, though, that to me it is very appealing to try to "cross pollinate" into "real life" the enthusiasms one gains on line.
The internet is so good for boosting one's enthusiasm, and one's sense of 'belonging'. I'm drawn to converting that positive feeling into more focus at work, more focus at home, and more "connectivity" when the computer is turned off. I do not mean to be a cheerleader for Salvation through LiveJournal. I mean the more limited thing that once one knows one is not alone in one's thinking, one can more easily accept that being oneself in the "mundaneworld" can become easier. Here, too, the "journal" aspect of LiveJournal comes into play. Once one watches random thoughts recorded daily, the "novel" one wishes to write about oneself,
then one sees that one must "get on with it" in real life. That
novel will not "just get written someday", one must write it a page at a time. One will not save the world by wishing--one has to actually figure out a charity and plunge in. I learned in school that the Puritans kept assiduous diaries to monitor their "good deeds" progress towards Heaven. I believe that LiveJournal can be a wonderful tool for ensuring that goals and ambitions are really goals and ambitions, and not merely tantalizing food of our daydreams in some personal hell. It's so easy to live in the
world in which "I could have been somebody if only I'd had time". The daily routine of LiveJournal, as well as the interactive connectity of the medium, calls out to me constantly "you have time, you have time, now what will you do?".

I think that the early days of this connectivity featured a bit of
misunderstanding of the true potential of the medium. There were those first few years, when it seemed as though the key function of the internet (apart from adult material distribution) was to permit people to leave one dysfunctional relationship with which they were well familiar and enter into another, frequently more dysfunctional, fantasy based relationship with someone met by IM. I suppose that the drawbacks of this sort of thing in the long run might have been compensated in part by the short term passionate rewards--I mean, some folks were able to create Romeo from the whole cloth of little IM messages, and then actually meet Romeo and
make some sort of passionate connection before it becomes apparent that Romeo is indeed another person with the (usually virtually the) same flaws as the poor fellow left behind. I don't want to knock anyone's way to meet kindred spirits, nor any humane and forthright lifestyle choices. Heaven knows that life is hard, and everyone must search out their own intimate salvations. I am certain that in my 20s, prior to when I married, I would have used the internet, had it been what it is today, to meet people (when I actually did meet the woman who became my wife, it was through another technology---we met on an airplane). I think that seeing the internet as a way merely to escape what is dysfunctional in the individual day to day missed the possibilties of the medium.

It's fine to use the connectivity of the internet to find offline
contacts, and might be something I'd like to do more often. But it's much more important to me to accept the medium as it is--an online thing unto itself. I have met online friends offline. I will no doubt do so again. But I never judge online interaction by its potential for offline friends.
Someday, I suspect online life and mundane life will merge, and we will not even think of a distinction. But the key thing is not about just using hte 'net to "meet offline people". Instead, I think that the enthusiasm for life which online interconnection can generate is some sort of wiggy Van der Graaf generator of sparks that one can carry into "mundanelife" to invigorate everything. Tired of your career? Well, write it in your journal, and then, when you read about it in your journal, do something about it. Lack friends? Sure, make some in cyberspace, but also learn that since you are not alone in your thinking, there must be unmet friends all around, who are just as compelling as you are. Need to move from a dysfunctional situation? Read about it in your journal and act on it. I know this is not a "magic bullet", and that some folks feel compelled instead to stew in their shortcomings, like slow cooked self-consumed cannibal pot roast. But to me, people are social animals. Once the internet teaches you what your "true herd" may be, then it's time to transform everything around you into what you want it to be.
It's more mundane than "change your thinking, change your life". It's more about taking one step after another. I know we are all a bit more dysfunctional than we write in our journal, but our journals can teach us that life is too short to let our dysfunctions block us from what we need. It's time to write that novel, go back to graduate school, mend this relationship, sever that one, get that needed therapy, explore what really matters. I see the potential of LiveJournal as being the potential to remind oneself, in the company of charming and brilliant strangers, that life is just too short. You can't just give up before you try and then write it in your journal. You have to actually create new fodder for your journal. This isn't about escaping into some world with Juliet
and no worries. This is about transforming the world one is in, because one has imagined a better world--and written it in a journal.

I'm a little starry-eyed on this topic, and I've not been on LJ that long. Still, it's an internet theme that has appealed to me for years. When I read about writers' circles, I am struck by the fact that the key impact of writers coming together was not to necessarily generate great literature per se. Rather, it's an exuberance of ideas that seems to be the salutary effect. Some of the folks involved in any circle are not remembered as writers, or remembered as poor writers. But the energy--the "we are in this moment"--that is the great benefit. To me, that's what LiveJournal should be all about. We live in this moment. We write to ourselves about what we need to do. Others interact with us in the realm of ideas, freed from the social constraints that are our bane and anchor in the mundaneworld. But rather than worrying that life is not at all like this particular role playing game, we have the chance to make changes. One thing a journal teaches is that change is not a sweeping "I was this, I become that". Change is incremental, day by day. We chart change in our journals, and our journals change us.
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