If only there were a little less technology.
I feel that way all the time. A strange, perverse, sneaking suspicion that technology is stealing something from me. Or from all of us–but I wouldn’t pretend to have absolutely everyone’s best interests at heart. But that said.
There is the question of whether such a thing as the dilution of meaning exists; if a mass of images, a mass of text, in themselves diminish the value of each part. Does anybody else have that sensation that poetry is best read no more than one or two poems a day? That reading through a book of poems is more boring than reading just one?
And of course the viral videos of the internet–talking cats, skateboarding dogs, hilarious news anchor mishaps–each one culturally apt and meaningful, yet because there’s always another waiting in the wings, prone to sudden disappearance.
Yes, it seems possible. I can identify two things that have contributed to a drastic reduction in the amount of music I listen to. 1) The ownership of an iPod. 2) Not driving a car anymore.
The first is really the relevant one here. The same is true of television. Watching a show, listening to a song–also always scrolling restlessly through others, nervous that what’s right in front of me is a mistake, an error of judgment perhaps. The reason museums still exist, and haven’t been replaced by virtual museums in which it is possible to view every single work of art simultaneously. Certainly there is something to be said for that. But when I think about all of the really meaningful experiences I’ve had with art, they’ve always been in person, and there’s something about the peculiar loneliness of a painting on a wall. Or, as in “The Moviegoer,” when Jack Bolling tells about visiting an old fort and finding a crusty, dried newspaper that smells more of history to him than the fort itself. The feeling and the object are not the same. A painting is not just the way it looks. Wine is a window into time, as an example, because it elapses, disappears, changes, is eventually gone. The season, the weather, the sunlight, the earth–all of these things, real things–are intrinsic. Wine doesn’t just taste like fermented grape juice–it tastes like a single season in a particular place on Earth.
And so it is with the fear of virtualization; that something, whatever it is, will be lost, and that nobody will know it because we will change and become different without realizing the cause. Gary Snyder says that, if we become too distant from the natural environment, we will be–not become–insane. The closeness itself is the sanity, not some factor contributing to a platonic Sanity. After all these millions of years, we cannot be human without that closeness, but we become something else. As for me, I feel that it is possible to lose something that, because it is hard to name, seems insubstantial–maybe even only a feeling, a lingering one–but is the exact opposite, a singular aspect of our lives that, once lost, is difficult to regain without utter disillusionment.
So I will be accused of being conservative, perhaps, called a Neo-Luddite, an antitechnologist, a crank, and many other names that suggest I am simply rebelling because I do not understand, or because I have quaint ideas, or because I am naive. But if there is something to be lost–and there is–then we ought to know how and why.
-DF, the AOC