Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pink Diaries on Acid

Image of Strange Attractor from Sprott's Fractal Gallery

"Could 77 million blogs be a symptom of some ailment that separates our 21st-century souls instead of connecting them?"
--Charles McNair

The Short Answer
Well, sure, I guess so.
Or, maybe, could it be they open our minds to whole new dimensions in communications and connection?
Could they be one of those blanket-toss/down-the-rabbit-hole experiences, that show us everything we take for granted could, in fact, be otherwise?

You know? You hang out in the blogosphere long enough and you start to think stuff like, why shouldn't books make noise?
And, when are computers going to add in textures?
Why can't I send soup over my phone?

Pretty soon you get to wondering other things, like--oh, I don't know--maybe, What did Jesus smell like?

(I never thought about that till the other day. The answer that came to me was the smell of a sun-warmed burlap bag, dusty with oat chaff. I asked Bink and she said lavender growing by the sea, and salt.
While I didn't think about this while online, nonetheless blogging has helped shake my brain free of the rationality I practiced in publishing for the past four years. Though I think my use of commas remains generally spot-on, eh?)

So, no, I don't see blogging as a symptom of an ailment. I find it more like a doorway to new connections. Like a girlhood pink plastic diary--the ones with a little lock & key--on LSD.

[I moved my "self-indulgently" long ramble in response to the question to the comments.]


barrett said...

Excellent column, well said. As a new blogger (and writer and avid reader of books since I learned to read) I am blogging like crazy and loving it.

At least it's not an automated voice on the telephone giving you eleven options... all automated! No, blogging is real people writing real things, it doesn't matter what, just all of us expressing our views and thoughts.

I can't begin to compare blogging to reading a book: one author, one individual, locked in a one--on--one relationship...mostly private.

Blogging is a million of us, sharing everything (as they say) from soup to nuts. I have a few links now to other blogs and I've developed in a short month or so an expanded view of life because of reading and researching topics I wish to discuss. I write more on my blog but do check out other blogs, and with such a variety of content and language each blogger can be very selective.

Books and Blogs are like Night and Day. We need them both.

fresca said...

"Could 77 million blogs be a symptom of some ailment that separates our 21st-century souls instead of connecting them?"
--from "Lady Sings the Blogs," Charles McNair's review of the new book "Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web"(edited by Sarah Boxer), in "Paste" (Signs of Life in Music, Film & Culture), February 2008.

In his review, Charles McNair, books editor of "Paste" magazine, says he's something of a Luddite. He has, he admits, long judged blogs to be "one of the most self-indulgent time-wasting distractions of modern times."

"Ultimate Blogs" failed to convince him otherwise:
"Several pieces in Boxer's sampler are delicious, but I still put down this book with no real compulsion to spend many hours of my life...glued to the next postings of even these smart and creative [bloggers]."

He prefers to "go for a walk instead...and speak with a friend or two...."

That sounds nice, but I don't think those are the choices: blogging self-indulgently or engaging in meaningful friendships in nature.

McNair worries that blogs and modern technology separate us "starved for real human-to-human community."

What pre-electronica human community he is referring to, when we were all connected face-to-face? The 1950's suburbs? The 1850's farm villages?
Were they really so great?

I just visited a pretty unplugged community last spring:
the small town in Sicily where my grandmother was born.
After ten days, I was newly grateful to my relatives who had the guts to get out of this claustrophobic place, where women still stay indoors behind shutters and men drain their lives out in manual labor.

Imagine: this kind of community means you spend your life in the society of your extended family and a bunch of neighbors, with almost no possibilities of meaningful connection with other humans (except through books, if you're lucky).
And get this:
in these places, the walls are very thin.

Modernity can suck your soul dry like a spider sucks a fly,
but so can small towns where you have nothing to do but take walks with friends.
I'll take my chances with modernity over the reality of nothing but face time with people who knew me since infancy.

Furthermore, McNair is looking into the wrong end of the telescope--the book-reader's end.
He envisions blogs the way he envisions books; but that's the wrong model. Blogs aren't books, or even magazines--they don't extend from the narrow end--the author--out to the broad audience. Rather, they invite readers to be authors, in a way that the slow and expensive printing process prohibits.

Blogs remind me not of reading books but more of exchanging mail with pen pals (remember those?)--writing to strangers saying,
"This is what it's like in my world, what's it like in yours?"

Oh, and "here's a picture of my dog."

If reading blogs is like reading any book, it'd be "The Diary of Anne Frank".
How many girls started to write their own diaries because of hers? In my age group, a lot.
Blogs are relatives of those girls' diaries with pink plastic covers that used to come with little locks and tiny gold keys.

But expanded. The possibilities of blogging boggle the mind, like those pink plastic diaries tripping on LSD.

Obviously, technology is only as liberating as the minds that use it. As Dave Barry said many years ago, The Information Superhighway is like CB-radio, but with more typing.
But if we're up for it, blogs and other electronic forms could stretch our conception of communication way beyond the the dimensions we're used to.
I wished when I was writing about Algeria, for instance, that the resulting book could make a noise like a camel. Now it could--if it were an electronic book.
But we have to flip our frame of reference, which is hard to do until you do it.

[III. Warning: Star Trek Ahead]
Like--simple but profound example--in the movie "Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan" (1982? already 20-some-plus years old):
The super-smart bad guy, Khan, is the product of 20th century eugenics. But, as Spock points out when Khan's starship is attacking the Enterprise, he's not used to thinking spatially beyond the limits of 20th century Earth technology.
So Kirk, used to navigating the 23rd century, simply drops the Enterprise in space, lets Khan's ship go over it, and then comes up and surprises Khan from behind.
[End of Star Trek Reference]

I'm concerned too, along with Mr. McNair, about the dangers of becoming a society like Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World":
"self-satisfied, internalized, indifferent to all cares."

Of course lots of people do spend hours of their lives tangled in the sticky Web of modern technology, like stupified flies.
Not good. But all through history, people have spent their lives digging potatoes. Is this worse?
I think the danger is not so much in our technology as in ourselves.

We no longer have the choice of a Web-free world, anymore than those monks in the 15th century whose lives and minds were threatened by movable type had a choice to ignore it.
Barring environmental destruction (a possibility), electronica is here to stay. The choice is not, do we use it or do we take a walk with friends?
The choice is, how do we engage with it?

I, for one, think blogging can be a liberating way to engage with other humans. Blogs in their participatory nature counteract our culture's addiction to spectatorship (sports, politics, you name it--even reading).

I wonder:
How many people read blogs and do not also write their own?

I don't know, but I bet it's a much smaller percentage than the percentage of book-readers who do not try to write their own books.

So, no, I don't think blogs are a symptom of our 21st century ailment of separation. I think they could be an antidote.
But here's the thing:
Mr. McNair is right. Don't spend hours of your life glued to other people's postings. Write your own.
And then go take a walk with a friend.