I remember the first day I learnt of it. I was a teenager, on the young side, and I was on my way to check my email—yes, back in those days one went to specific places to use the internet, or as we liked to call it: “web surf”. In this case, I was at the internet waterpark known as the school library. I remember seeing the librarian—a sprightly, elderly lady with spectacles on a chain, who would beam with pride every time she found you the book you were looking for. That day she was beaming a little more brightly than usual. She had found something special.
A sheet of paper was stuck to the door of the computer room, printed with big, capslocked-underlined words: “TRY THIS SITE FOR YOUR SEARCHES”. Underneath was “Google.com”. I remember sitting down, trying out this new discovery and thinking to myself (as I watched the Netscape comet circle planet N): “Well, this is quite good. Better write it down so I don’t forget. Saving the world from the chaos of Yahoo.”
All of that seems so quaint now, so far away—a world full of charming, obsolete rituals. It was a quiet time in my memory, when a person’s mind was mainly preoccupied with the things before it—a conversation, a book, an actual bird twittering. I suppose it is the kind of memory that lends itself to nostalgia—the peculiar feeling that arises when contemplating the irretrievable.
A different world
“It is a glorious achievement, it has to be said—a new heaven of chatter descended to earth on digital clouds.”
Today we have the voices; barreling, garrulous, internet-carried voices; unceasing, raw, livestreamed. It is a glorious achievement, it has to be said—a new heaven of chatter descended to earth on digital clouds. I wonder what Faulkner would have made of it. Man’s puny inexhaustible voice reigns supreme.
It can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. It’s hard to hold on to an opinion with unadulterated conviction when one knows that just around a digital corner is someone else with an equally held opposite opinion. At the same time, the knowledge that this someone exists makes one cling to one’s opinion a little tighter—tight enough to clobber this person over the head with if required. I find myself having to be careful. The temptation is to pick a side and jump in. Join in the clobbering. But am I not just being drawn into some nerve-shredding, never-ending battle? How do I not end up simply repeating someone else’s slogans as my own?
I find that I must think of my own life if I am not to be swept along—the real people and places, the beautiful things especially (a heart full of beautiful things is probably the best protection against internet-induced delirium). It also helps to pay closer attention to the choices that I make—not necessarily the big, heroic, life-changing ones, but the ones that occur in the workaday place that is my life: what I do on my weekends, in my neighbourhood, with others; the little things that remind me that I am ever capable of taking constructive action.
And it should also be said that while a lot of what I hear in the internet-carried voices turns out to be little more than noise, it is not uncommon for me to find words that reverberate with a different energy, striking some common chord inside me, even telling me that I have been mistaken or ignorant somewhere along the line, that I too must change.
To make sense of all this information, it is helpful for me to put together words of my own. I find myself regularly revising outdated sentences inside me to express some inchoate, new meaning, attempting to delineate the contours of a changing mind. It is a painstaking task that doesn’t necessarily get very far. I must sift through memories, disentangle thoughts, dissect previously unexamined opinions. And if I am not to fall into preaching or convincing after all this is done, I must be willing to go through it all over again.
As I listen, I must speak—and as I speak, listen.
One more voice in the swirling vortex of sound.
The web is intriguing beguiling surprising astonishing mesmerizing everything anything we can imagine and think
your reflections are inspiring, dear friend, thanks for sharing. What came to my mind spontaneously, as I was reaching the end of your reflections: The last couple of days I was mesmerized by reading “Letters and Essays 1886 – 1913” by Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Gulpaygani, the greatest an most learned of all Baha’i scholars. His ability to separate facts from fiction, truth from falsehood, the essential from the non-essential, and his logic to provide proofs, all was amazing. I wonder how some of his reflections would help to sort through the immensity of information raining down on us via the internet …..
“To make sense of all this information, it is helpful for me to put together words of my own. I find myself regularly revising outdated sentences inside me to express some inchoate, new meaning, attempting to delineate the contours of a changing mind. It is a painstaking task that doesn’t necessarily get very far. I must sift through memories, disentangle thoughts, dissect previously unexamined opinions. And if I am not to fall into preaching or convincing after all this is done, I must be willing to go through it all over again”.
fond greetings from Germany