Wednesday, August 8, 2007
It's been happening recently with the internet, and specifically this "Web 2.0" stuff, which I'm not sure I quite understand (though this encyclopedia entry makes it sound like a convenient viral marketing system for ensuring corporate profits by encouraging an increasingly splintered community of marginalized cultural groups whose only common bond is their role as consumers--but maybe that's just me).
What spurred this little blog-rant? (Yes, I am aware of the irony; however, I am not all that interested in it, as I've had my fill of irony lately and would love a few moments of sincerity or genuine communication, for once, even if it has to be digital.) Partly this blog post, directing readers to this blog post, which mocked Elton John's concerns about the role that media plays in the realm of aesthetics and creativity, especially in music. Elton John reportedly said, "The internet has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff." And if, for a moment, you feel a twinge of isolation or alienation from all your fellow bloggers out there and are thinking maybe you should go out, walk in the rain, get a cup of coffee at the local bookstore and engage a stranger in conversation... look at this. There, don't you feel better? Who would take a man in a duck costume seriously? Don't you feel justified in your technobubble now, laughing contentedly at any old "fuddy-duddy" who might dare imagine life-sans-internet? Whew. That was a close one.
I'm also still in the process of grieving, which is influencing my bitterness. I'm not sure if this stage of grief is anger, or bargaining. I feel I've been through all of them several times now. What I can't seem to shake is this feeling of regret--not only for myself, but for my friend who, despite his twenty-five years on this amazing earth, confessed to me only a few weeks before his death that he still felt isolated from many of the people in his life, that his friendships felt shallow and his career goals directionless. Even though I'd never txted his cell phone or spent more than one evening hanging out with him outside of work, he mentioned several times how he considered me one of his closest friends. I feel a wash of guilt when I find myself wondering, as I did each time he said it, if he was being sincere, or simply playing to my ego and insecurities the way we are all encouraged to play to each other's egos and insecurities, in hopes that our own will be placated. Perhaps I will never really know if I really knew him--and I wonder if he regrets that, or if the dead even have such regrets.
What does this have to do with the internet? Not much. Except that it has to do with intimacy, sincerity, and a sense of community belonging. On the internet, nobody dies--they just stop logging on. With morbid curiosity, I recently checked my departed friend's MySpace and Facebook profiles--both eerily saturated with "I miss you"s and "Goodbye"s from virtual and real-life friends, messages sent out into the void of cyberspace, easily written and just as easily ignored and lost. I can't help but wonder if they provide any sense of comfort to his family--or if his family even knows about them or has access to them in the face of password protections and identity-theft precautions.
As wonderful as the internet may be, with its "democratizing of information" and networking capabilities, I do not believe it can provide those things which give a sense of context and meaning to our real, everyday lives as human beings. Sincerity will always be vulnerable to the mockery and misunderstanding of faceless strangers, strangers who will always be plentiful in a social network that undermines any notion of authenticity or intimacy. Without intimacy and sincerity, what is a "community" except a group of noisy individuals all clamoring for or about the latest gadget or political scandal or tragedy? In Web 2.0, there is no such thing as Gandhi's "minority of one." Every subculture becomes a viable corporate market, every quirk or idiosyncrasy becomes an amusing fad, every solitude is invade by the "democracy" of buzzing facts and the opinions of people without necessarily any personal investment in the situation or subject matter. There is no quiet into which the "still small voice" might speak timidly about uncertainty or complexity, might confess to unpopular passions or uniquely personal dreams. There are no personal dreams in Web 2.0--there is only the constant talking of people to people about people (and things)... talking and talking and saying nothing much at all.
This is, I confess, not really a blog. It is an old-fashioned journal, exposed on the internet because I have a certain penchant for masochism (or perhaps a desperation to be sincere and to seek intimacy even where it can't be found). I want everyone to know that I am grieving, I want to force that uncomfortable fact into everyone's view. In part because the family and friends who "irl" should be here supporting me, comforting me and allowing me to engage in the process of grief as part of a community, are too busy playing with their gadgets and keeping up on the latest political scandals, assuming a kind email once in a while is sufficient.
In the end, it is my own solitude that has been the most comfort to me this past week. Those who rule the Web 2.0 have not yet tackled the market of personal grief, they have not discovered any chat rooms or .com sites that can provide the same kind of closure and affirmation as a good summer thunderstorm rushing past your lonely apartment window and soaking slowly into the ground. If the internet has, as Elton John claims, kept us from "going out and being with each other," I can at least be sure it will not stop me from being with myself. And from the company of my own solitude, perhaps I eventually may create something worthy of my friend's memory.