Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Addictions, Technology, a Moth and a Challenge

Checking email is addictive. There is that little high, that buzz, from seeing the unread message. Of course, more often than not, there is nothing important in the email, no content that requires action or reaction; Facebook and all the other social networking sites offer a similar, minor rush--someone responds to your update, your "what are you doing now" post, and you feel, momentarily, like it matters what you are doing now (which is always, of course, checking Facebook).

I notice that there are multiple, minor addictions that suck the life out of my days. The computer is the biggest culprit; there is the endless Web in which to enmesh yourself, the various photo, blog and review sites some of which are designed for creative output, but many are just excuses to see what virtual 'friends' are doing with their time. I can tell you what they're NOT doing--actually connecting with you, seeing you, experiencing a real friendship.

Writing is already a distancing activity, insofar as there is no way to translate one's soul or spirit into words, especially words even more removed from the writer by virtue of being typed, not hand written. My fingers touch the keyboard, yet no reader will know how it feels to type these words, or the warmth of my hands. The fact that we all collectively spend so much time staring into a screen is yet another distancing reality, and we find multiple ways to keep receding into the background of our lives. All of the pictures that I post to Flickr, for example, seem dead to me in a way that the actual photo never felt. Does anyone remember carefully placing photos into an album? That was a physical, actual experience--the feel of the paper, the arrangement of the pictures in a certain meaningful order, the creation of a life story. Photo sites reduce everything to the same level of importance--it's all equally important or unimportant; there is no personal touch or arrangement of photographs, simply a stream of images.

It's interesting to me that in this age of constant contact with hundreds of friends and strangers via the computer, I have never felt lonelier. I surf all these sites that are supposed to "connect" me, and yet I am utterly disconnected.

Awhile back, I emerged from the depths of the house and the fake glow of the computer to the laundry room, a dusty, cobwebbed outcropping attached to the garage. Our laundry room is a ramshackle place built in the 1920s and probably not intended to last more than a couple of years. I find it, however, utterly charming. We have placed a witch in there from a few Halloweens ago, and she presides over the insects and the dirty clothes strewn about the floor. I saw a moth that night that seemed rather amazing; I fetched Ty to look at her. What I noticed is that moths have faces. I never knew that before. He took several pictures, and later, as I contemplated his pictures, I was stunned to see that the moths in our laundry room and complex, astounding creatures that look like something from a Lord of the Rings movie. They are these small animals that some incredible force in nature created for unknown purposes, and they are shockingly expressive and soulful. Moths have a certain transcendence to them, an animating spirit that humbles me. Never again will I assume that a tiny creature, always overlooked in the past, is a simple pest. That moth changed my perspective on nature, spirit, creation and beauty.

Ty's picture brought that to light. Yes, technology. There was a purpose there, after all. But most of the time, we stare with glazed eyes into a screen, ignoring the amazing life that surrounds us.

The challenge? Go outside and find something astounding that you have never really looked at before. Tell me, show me, teach me something that I didn't know about you before. Use technology as your medium, if you like. Just don't use it as the message.

Find your moth.

1 comment:

Luke said...

I think the loss of meaning you see from a photo site has little to do with the actual presentation and more to do with the simplicity of display. Your reaction to photo sites vs. photo albums is similar to my feelings about mix tapes vs. mix disc. When I made mix tapes, I had to listen to the entire tape as I was making it. I used a mixer to overlap the songs, so I couldn't stop. I had to make decisions and then stick around for the results. I would always have some songs ready to go, but I also spent a lot of time searching through albums, knowing I had about two minutes to figure out what was next. The only other option was to start over. With mix discs, all I have to do is list a bunch of songs and tell the computer to burn the disc. I can stop and shuffle the music around whenever I like. When Katherine was still in San Francisco, I used to mail CDs to her. She told me later that she actually liked the covers more than the discs, and I knew why. The covers were little bits of goofy art that showed a bit of me; the music was just a bunch of other people's songs.

At the same time, the ease of production doesn't have to mean a loss of expression. People still tell me how much they enjoy the CD Katherine and I gave away at our wedding, and I know why. We went through thousands of songs to find the exact music we wanted.

Also- similarity of display doesn't necessarily lead to similar appreciation. For example: most paperback books are about the same size, but vary greatly in value- not on a simple linear scale, but with different levels of worth for different readers.

...and if you miss the feeling of photo albums, put one together. You'll do more than recover some of the joy of creation. You'll be making something that is technology independent. I have books that are nearly 100 years old that still work. I guarantee that the computer I'm using now will not be working in 2100.