Monday, November 16, 2009

Sojourns in Meatspace

I always wince with a bit of guilt when I look back at this blog and see a scant couple of posts over as many weeks, like some expensive piece of exercise equipment gathering a visible layer of dust in the corner. That is more or less how I treat this site: as a means of streamlining my communicative M.O., of flexing my linguistic muscles, and of occasionally stretching my trains of thought. And just like everyone else's various exercise routines, it's neglected far too often in favour of more "pressing" and "immediate" concerns.

Such excuses are more often than not authentic (though they're excuses nonetheless). Outside of cyberspace, the end of the calendar year is such a Gordian knot of loose ends to be tied before singing "Auld Lang Syne", you'd think I had a legitimate job. Even the friends with whom I spend my cherished downtime ceaselessly needle me about how much I have on my plate:
Are you finished moving? When will the record be done? Have those friends come through town yet? Don't you have practice that day? How much more editing? Do you have an outline yet?
The good news is that it's by & large under control and I predict more-than-satisfactory results, so I'll be able to survey the past year with some satisfaction (in spite of my initial prognosis).

But I'm not entirely sure I can say the same of this blog. Sure, I've contributed a couple of interesting ideas, and I'd like to think I haven't let genuinely shit writing escape into the public sphere, but this site has been relegated to backburner status since I returned to Tokyo. I still enjoy sparring with anonymous antagonists half a world away, and I'll exploit as many outlets for my various projects as possible, but spewing invective online has been at most the third-most-important thing I've done any given day this year.

My banner year in blogging was 2008, when I lived in Hamburg and during which I was the least engaged with my real-world surroundings that I've ever been. This was as much my fault as anything, though that famous Nordische hospitality didn't fucking help. The point is, though, that the number of words I'd type per month exceeded the number of words I'd speak by a factor of perhaps dozens; I'd interact with as many online personas in a single day as flesh-&-blood humans in a week. I was communicating as often, efficiently, and prolifically as ever - the only difference was that I'd moved from meatspace to the electronic aether.

Sorry, did I say "the only difference"? Not quite: I was a goddamn wreck. The further I retreated into my online simulacrum, the more corroded my general mental state became. No matter how extensive the e-mails I'd write or receive, it was no substitute for the sizzle & synchronicity of a good conversation. What I needed was some sustained, resonant harmony among fellow human beings. But my contrary attitude towards my environment made it that much more difficult to engage in the kind of casual conviviality I needed. The horrid Catch-22 of any deleterious, addictive behaviour: the greater the need to be healthy, the harder it is to be so on even a minimal level.

The irony is that, now that I'm back amongst the living, everyone seems to be sinking deeper into the quicksand of cyberspace that I had at my most estranged from reality. Had Twitter been described to me a year ago, I'd have said it was destined to be the Pet Rock or Tamagotchi of Web 2.0, the most self-indulgent of attention-sapping trifles - not the fastest growing social tool on the net, and certainly not Time Magazine's "Person of the Year". Similarly, perhaps the greatest indignation I suffered in Germany was that almost none of my friends bothered to maintain even the most cursory contact. But barely a year later, I take for granted that the most meaningful relay of information I can expect from anyone outside of Tokyo is a Facebook status update. Of course, that I accept the new norm doesn't mean I must do so without bitterness.

I was mulling this over with a friend the other day; he just recently reconnected with the internet after eight-years of online abstinence. Having been without even the slimmest online existence while everyone else expanded their personal brand via MySpace, flickr, Twitter, Blogger, and Facebook, my friend has had to adjust to current cyber-conditions at whiplash pace. Understandably, he's fascinated with how ornate* a "life" somehow external to "reality" can be, and invoked the prophetic words of William S. Burroughs:
Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.
Obviously, Burroughs was thinking more specifically of inner space (of which he considered himself a "cosmonaut"). I doubt ol' Willy B. had enough interest in the objectives of the Apollo missions to have meant outer space, nor do I think he cared enough about computer engineering to have specifcally predicted a communicative network of autonomously-manned machines. But in terms of man's future lying in some ethereal non-space, some subjectively-construed fog free of any realist metrics, Burroughs was absolutely right.

Regrettably, continuing the trend since the first neanderthal spurred sparks from between stones, our technology exceeds our understanding of its potential & power. As thrilled as we are that we can globally broadcast our most menial brainfarts, or watch every imaginable congress of naked people, we don't fully appreciate the danger the internet presents by allowing the from-scratch construction of our own bubble realities. Specifically, we don't appreciate that our online "lives" are pseudorealities predicated upon & filtered by our personal biases, and yet we profess shock, shock! when the bulk of online communication is profane headbutting between bullheaded fusspots who'll never see the other side. We bring our real-world certainty, our empirical surety into the scramble-suited paramnesia of the online "world", in denial that our realist epistemology is inapplicable in such a shape-shifting hallucinoscape.

Reality has always been a hard sell & an even harder purchase, far before the fluidity of the online "world" entered the picture. Most disconcerting is that the internet is the first "netherworld", the first extradimensional space (supplemental to the traditional four dimensions) of which we have direct experience & evidence. For all the talk of tooth fairies & deities, of heaven & hell, of grandparents staring benevolently down from some cloudy resort, no one has even been able proffer a single scrap of evidence thereof. But I know, without doubt or hesitation, that friends with whom I only communicate online exist, since I experience their presence in what can reasonably called a "real" way. Yet, in contemplating these "virtual" friends from my place in the world of bone & blood, I regard them as I regard other friends or family who no longer exist in meatspace: with sadness, with some sense of loss & lack, as "departed" and no longer corporeal. They are phantasmic in a way not dissimilar to the deceased, because their intrusions upon my quotidian existence are equivalently vague, intimated, and memorial. They are not "real" enough.

Or, in the unacademic candor of Mr. Patton Oswalt, "You can replace the Internet with five really smart friends."

(*) - He hesitates, as I do, to use the word "rich".


pollywog said...

The further I retreated into my online simulacrum, the more corroded my general mental state became.

i went thru a bout of the dorian grays a while back too.

only the uglier i got on line the saner i stayed in real life.

have you seen 'surrogates' the movie with bruce willis? its about the ultimate remote control toy and follows on from a concept in an 1983 movie called 'brainstorm' where a machine can record emotions and experiences.

i'd prolly be the guy hooked on orgasms, but the whole life after death thing would be nice to feel also :)

Seb said...

Believe me, I wish I could just be an asshole online and vent my spleen that way. But in order for it to have any therapeutic effect, I'd have to imagine vividly what I'm doing to the other's day, which in turn reminds me of a how juvenile, useless, and cowardly that kind of behavior is. It's much better to have to get in someone's face to their face.

As for Surrogates, I liked the look of the preview, but Japan gets all the western movies WAY after their occidental release dates. (Unless it's an "event" picture, like The Matrix or Batman.) So, given that Surrogates just came out in the west, I expect to see it in time for, uh, next summer.

pollywog said...

well yeah, its not that healthy to go off on people but venting about shit that pisses you off is all good...very therapeutic

spit it out lest you choke on it, i say