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.