Personal Post #3: The More Things Change

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2010 at 3:20 am

First, you should be aware that I just finished writing Christmas cards and am kind of half-heartedly dance-sitting along with my beloved Merry Christmas…Have a Nice Life Cyndi Lauper album. So I’m sort of emotionally inebriated. Second, you must know that this post is terribly biased by the fact that I think I might be in love with William Powers. And not the kind of anthropological love I discussed in the last post. The kind of love where I am cursing his wife and ignoring the existence of his child.

For the record, I have, at various points in my life, been in love with all of the following men: Zooey Glass, Sam Weir, William Miller, Mufasa, Kenneth Parcell, Rick Blaine, Indiana Jones, the Cowardly Lion, and Mister Rogers (I like a man who knows when it’s time to switch cardigans!). Thus, William Powers already has a competitive edge, what with being a real person and all.

How do I love William Powers? Let me count the ways…

He begins his book with an allegory of a flying convention center/stadium hurdling through space. His allegorical self decides that jumping into the unknown black hole of the atmosphere is preferable to staying in a room plagued by constant connection. He feels like society is losing depth. He named his boat after a line from Great Expectations. He says things like, “The air is full of people,” and “…the burden of knowing that everyone everywhere is just a few clicks away.” He idolized Don Quixote in high school. He cited a line from one my favorite books of all time, Here is New York by E.B. White. He dropped his phone in the ocean it only took him ten minutes to be happy about it. He describes the advent of the iPhone by saying, “A revolution was under way and people were sleeping on sidewalks to be in the vanguard.” He is frequently sarcastic (“A person is just another person and there are so many of those, blah blah blah.”). He talks about the loss of creative thinking that has resulted from computers in every cubicle, talks about not being able to remember what it is you really do for a living, about human industry originating in the mind, about the beauty of a hinged door, about a ailment called the Hunted-Mind Syndrome, and all the while has Hamlet’s inanimate table whispering lines like, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to know everything. Just the few things that matter.

I could continue this litany easily. But I’ll spare you and whatever modicum of sanity I can still convince you to associate with me (if any). Bottom line: This man spoke to me. I loved his book. There is a line from the movie The History Boys in which one of the characters says, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

This is exactly how Powers’ book made me feel. It’s so easy to convince yourself of the isolation of your thoughts when topics like “the many ways in which technology is denigrating our relationships and lives” don’t come up at the water cooler. The reality that Powers reminded me of, though, is that many people feel similarly – I’m sure many of you have at points both before and during this course. And not only do I find that comforting, but I also think it’s essential to our continued ability to balance our use of online resources with attempts to maximize the depth of our lives.

Powers also prompted the epiphany that so much of what I’ve blogged about this semester – my hatred of cubicles, my love of bus rides through tunnels – is really just a reflection of something else all together. I hate my cubicle because while in it, I am forced to stare at a screen all day. I love the bus rides because they force people to disconnect and reawaken awareness of the wonderment inherent in the most pedestrian of activities.

So many of the conversations I had with my parents while home for Thanksgiving are mirrored by Hamlet’s Blackberry (or, more accurately, vice versa). Upon landing and being picked up at the airport, I told my dad how baffled I was by the guy sitting in front of me on the plane. It had been a morning flight, and then entire time the plane followed the East Coast shore. As we flew over the rivers emptying into the ocean, the sun hit the water in tandem with the plane’s speed and made it look as if electrical currents were being lit and snaking fuses through the land underneath us.  The guy in front of me, however, shut his window shade and plugged in his laptop to get on Youtube. I was both flummoxed and oddly offended by this. As much as I fly, the process never seems natural to me, and with each flight, my amazement grows instead of waning. And here we were, tiny human beings suspended in the atmosphere against all probability with a view money can’t buy, and this guy SHUTS HIS WINDOW TO LOG ONTO HIS COMPUTER. If you need to sleep, that’s one thing. But to shut out that kind of view in favor of YouTube is a waste of life. My opinion, of course, but one I feel strongly about.

While at home, I didn’t log on once, and didn’t it a second thought. Because I was spending time with my family, and even when bickering, I’ll take that any day.  Like when Powers dropped his phone overboard and then felt suddenly free, I love not being “connected.” Admittedly, I still had my Blackberry for use in connecting with my friends and arranging movies and dinners, so I wasn’t debilitated. But still. It feels so, so good not to be socially networked. And sometimes I just want to sever the cable permanently.

But. There is always a “but.” But at the same time, there are things that the internet and social media offer me that can’t be accessed or replicated elsewhere. I couldn’t reduce my academic stress by watching the entire fifth season of Bones on Netflix Instant Play, for example, an activity that I enjoyed immensely. I wouldn’t be able to browse people’s amazing photos on Flickr. There would be no weekly McSweeney’s transmission. Or spontaneous small postings from friends that do much to improve my days.

And, then there’s this: The comfort in the bottom line — some things will forever remain in the realm of the real world and cannot be placed behind a www.

No matter the age, the trends, the consumerism, we all still make turkey on Thanksgiving and take great pleasure in the feel of a scarf on a cold day. We all still thrill at the sight of a giant crystal ball being lowered down a pole to mark the passage of time, all still nibble our bottom lips in concentration. We still find good endings to bad days and move hats and cars over cardboard Monopoly squares, wanting nothing more in that moment than to own the railroads. We still pat the heads of dogs, infantilize our language talking to our cats, and stub our toes on uneven chunks of earth. Our breath still emerges as smoke when the thermometer hits 40, and we still crank our cars ten minutes before driving anywhere in February. We still express desire to learn things we don’t yet know – speak a language, sail a boat, paint a picture. We still drop plates on kitchen floors, still sneak one more cookie when no one is looking, still eat the dough raw when we know we’re alone. Our arms still rise with goosebumps when the water turns cold; our eyes still tear when confronted with a freshly sliced onion. We can drive with Mapquest and Garmin and still get lost. We can “own” thousands of songs and still not be able to place a note. We can use our fingers to tap out messages, enlarge a word, or turn a page and still not be able to touch the tips of our own noses after a glass of wine.

We can celebrate, bemoan, and question all the things that have changed, all the while forgetting all the things that never will.


That’s all, folks. Keep being as you-ish as you can possibly be. It’s been swell. And because I really like you people, I leave you with this…

*Image from: http://wynkendeworde.blogspot.com/2008/07/hamlets-tables.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: