In my previous post I suggested that persons and cultures, our very realities, are narrative in structure. What happens when you interrupt such narratives? Many of us are finding out, thanks to our increasingly ubiquitous and much-beloved digital communication technologies. There follow two especially obvious ways this is happening.
Applying a cell phone to the side of one’s head in public has the effect of disconnecting the brain. In this condition, cellphone users show characteristic signs of aimlessness, milling about on sidewalks and bumping into things. At the same time they lose all sense of courtesy, entering a solipsistic world wherein lanes of sidewalk traffic and right of way on escalators cease to exist. They step outside the collective narrative that is our conventional civil society.
Yammer away all you like, forget about the person standing next to you on the Skytrain. Sure. And pose in generally awkward locations as — compliments of the advertising industry and celebrity stooges — you slip into one prefab persona or another, aping the beautiful brainless people, exulting over how cool you are as, phone clapped upside your head, you stand framed in doorways and at the tops of escalators. The idea that you are both cool and connected is the only storyline establishing the continuity of these moments. This is who you are.
Musing along these lines, I suddenly realized something. A parallel kind of thing afflicts me when I succumb to the Internet urge. It’s as though the narrative that is me, as I want to think of myself, is abruptly paused. Confronted with iMail, Facebook, Skype, Google, etc., my attention explodes across the many distractions at hand. And, in some way I can’t articulate very well, my sense of self becomes diffused in the same way.
spring day darkening:
the locust digital swarm
eats my absent mind
In part, I metamorphose into something like a lab rat with an electrode planted in its pleasure center, hitting the jolt-me button again and again in preference even to the buttons for food or sex, even unto dying of friggin’ starvation. But that’s just a white rat, eh? Whereas I am a card-carrying member of the elite species Homo sapiens. So I don’t need no stinkin’ electrode stuck in my hypothalamus. No, I simply go online, where I can get many, many discrete little hits of dopamine, dipping away like a demented dipstick till all my creative projects lie dead in heaps on my study floor. We call this a higher-order activity. It’s Progress.
But it’s such a relief not to have to concentrate on anything. What a gas, the relative ease of bumping around, Brownian particle-fashion, among the myriad other bits of persons and their digital spoor, just going with it, eh? Wherever, and whatever. Like I’m being absorbed by the collectivity, and there’s no real “me” left to worry about things. Until I re-emerge from cyberspace which, at least so far, we all have to do eventually.
“Just turn off the Internet router,” my Sara tells me. Right.
The “Walking Zombies” image is used with permission from ChargeAll.