Saturday, September 05, 2009

Dull Minds, Shiny Objects

Hey, get this -- different mediums of communication lend themselves to different types of communication! No, really.

I've never joined Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. Email has always been perfectly adequate for communicating quickly and sharing whatever I want from the web. So perhaps I know not of which I speak, but I'm not sure what people expect from social networking sites, really -- literary salons or something? When you participate in a medium that's built on easy access, speed, and the constant stimulation of trivial novelty, why are you surprised to discover how shallow, selfish or boring people can be? When you take a moment to notice how jejune most of your mental activity is, why on Earth would you want unfiltered, 24/7 access to other people's heads?

This brings us to our first dilemma: Amidst all this heightened chatter, we're not saying much that's interesting, folks. Rather, we're breaking a cardinal rule of companionship: Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Friends.

It's funny that she seems to think that "chatter" and "interesting" aren't mutually exclusive. The real problem is that most of us are boring much of the time, especially those of us who never shut up. The trick is recognizing that unflattering fact and learning how to balance your time with friends with time alone, where you wait for interesting thoughts to develop and interesting experiences to occur, rather than allow your cloying neediness to impose you on others' attention. Of course, one afternoon alone in the howling abyss of their own mindscape has most people grasping for the phone, the remote, or the car keys to save them from themselves.

Really, this is such an incredibly disingenuous complaint. In my experience, intellectual stimulation or deep, meaningful conversation is just one of those things we think we're supposed to profess a yearning for, like learning how to cook tasty vegetable dishes, getting in shape or taking time to stop and smell the roses. People don't seem to actually want much of it. They want companionship, even if it means just an inert, monosyllabic lump on the other end of the couch. They want the reassuring sound of another person's voice, even if all it's communicating is inane drivel. And in an online environment, they'll take kitten pictures and lol-speak as symbols of someone's reassuring presence. Meaningless chatter is the meat and potatoes of most people's conversations! Talking about shit that doesn't matter to people only halfway paying attention is what greases the wheels of social living. If you want thoughts and ideas that speak to the essence of what it is to be human, well, that's what art is for. (I don't even say that as some sort of bitter idealist who thinks everyday conversations should be Shakespearean dialogue about topics of monumental significance; while I don't have much patience for small talk, and prefer to remain silent rather than babble just to fill the air, I accept that being somewhat of a recluse is just the price you pay for that inclination.) As long as you're not looking in the wrong places, there are plenty of weighty conversations to be had out there, many of them online, even! And yet, and yet...there we find ourselves, channel surfing, living shallowly and sucking out all the marrow of some sour cream 'n' salsa pork rinds.

Poor technology! It cuts a tragic figure, almost akin to Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, shouldering the burden of taking away the freedom we don't really want while receiving nothing but scorn for its trouble, lest we be forced to confront our own pale, languid existences.