"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

a-twitter: life in the digital age

i'm amazed by all the means by which the internet helps ppl keep in touch these days. does anyone even remember how to use a phone or make a house call?

i think technology is seriously incapacitating us. i remember before i even got a cell phone how different my personal interactions and relationships were. i mean, i remember having to plan ahead and set times to meet people - wow, can you imagine?! if i was meeting a friend for a date, it was a specific time and place, no if's, and's, or but's about it. you actually had to keep your obligations and commitments, you couldn't just call them at the last minute and cancel or say you were running late.

i'm sensitive to these things lately because of the amalgam of online applications i have recently started using (what i have come to collectively term my "e-life" applications). first, i finally caved and joined facebook. this was a huge personal defeat for me, since i had held off on joining for the entirety of my college career, because i found the idea of online social networking to be shallow and ridiculous. i had better ways to waste my time on the internet, and, as i constantly reminded others, there are other ways of keeping in touch with people.

but, over the years, as more and more people joined facebook, and i continued to refuse, i noticed i was getting left out of what appeared to be a digital modification - no, transformation - of modern life. my friend Robert likes to talk about transhumanism, and i think that now i finally understand what that term (and its philosophy and associated ideas) means. could it be that humans are really adapting themselves, overcoming "undesirable aspects of the human condition," by plugging ourselves in, and loading ourselves up?

i've discussed before my belief that humans are becoming increasingly technology-dependent. let's think about this: life support. "pulling the plug." we liquefy our lives, distill the essence into digital data, and upload it from any port in the world, as long as we have high speed internet access and an outlet. this process of uploading, of instant publication, of visibility, transparency, inescapability... it's invigorating. makes you feel alive, makes you feel real, makes you feel like you've got an audience and what you're doing matters (because it matters what you're doing). "overcoming involuntary death" - everyone a 15-second internet celebrity, everyone an immortal, everyone inhabiting a webspace. my life was contained in the microchips of a small whirring piece of hardware, until it decided to die. when that happened, i felt like it was i who had been erased. so what did i do? i turned to my virtual self and recovered what i could from the internet. life doubling up on itself: all the music i originally found on the internet, recovered again via my own past posts.

the digitalization of our lives has other impliations as well. facebook is not so much a way of keeping in touch with people as it is about keeping track of people. ah ha! - surveillance! yes, it seems that what we're all really doing is keeping tabs on one another. is there any other way to justify or explain the news feeds? we watch for changes in biographical information, relationship statuses, we track the lives of our friends as if our lives were online dramas being played out for entertainment.

now, a shameful admission: i don't necessarily dislike the idea of being able to track every change in every person's life. i actually rather like seeing what people are up to. example: i love using gmail. the chat feature is one of my favorite tech tools of recent memory because it allows me to see when my friends are online and what they might be up to:

i never used AIM as a kid, even when it was all the rage and all my friends used it to keep in touch. i preferred calling people on the phone or riding my bike to their house to say hi (it seems being behind the technological times has always been a proclivity of mine.) the same is true now: i could easily call someone and get a response just as quickly as i could if i sent them a chat. but, i wouldn't get the luxury of a status message for context. it's sometimes nice to strike up a chat with a friend who, by the look of their status, is feeling down, stressed, or lonely. and i'm sure lots of people would agree that it's a great window for expressing emotions without feeling like you're unloading or being extremely desperate, of putting yourself out there without having to risk anything, because the audience you want is there, in that little sidebar, and if they want to talk to you, they will. and you get the benefit of feeling a slight sense of relief and catharsis, without having to wear your heart on your sleeve, so to speak.

it's also a great way to share a link you like, a clever thought or quip, or even your latest poetry: one of my friends wrote a series of sonnets using the gchat status message as a creative medium (he found the character limit to be an interesting creative feature). i used to document away messages, finding them to be fantastic narratives (that document has since been lost in the death of external harddrive, boooo.)

but, as much as i love status narratives, twitter has taken this to a completely new level. holy shit, man, this thing is madness!!

here is a sight [sic] where you can upload away messages, as if it were a blog, and it stores them for you, as a narrative! and, you can "follow" people you know, or people you hardly know at all! (right now i am following Achewood and a Miami professor who i never took classes with, just talked to occasionally about living wage issues).

the striking thing about twitter is that, unlike gchat or facebook, it doesn't aspire or pretend to be anything other than a news feed for your personal life. there is no use for it beyond occasionally reminding people "yes, i am in fact, alive." in a digital age where we are constantly connected and plugged in, i find it fascinating that our everyday actions can find outlet and audience in cyberspace. ("i am typing... i am thinking... i am breathing... i am living...")


-stef lee

p.s. speaking of narratives, a twitter conversation unfolded on the 'net this (6/6/08) morning:


Paul said...

Haven't commented (or communicated) in a while, but this post is close to my thoughts so it seems like a good time. Its always sad to see another facebook refusenik give in, but I certainly can understand the temptation. On that note, you should read Cory Doctrow's latest book Little Brother, its published CC so you can legitimately download for free if you have something comfortable to read on, or drop 12 bucks on a dead tree copy. Its about privacy and technology, and the sense of activism in the sense I usually find ridiculous it inspired reminded me of you. Its actually young adult fiction, but since his ideas are always better than his writing that works out well.

On your thought about digitalizing life, I find myself more and more going with digital versions, simply because it means I don't have to have things. I find that my general sense that all life is transitory and a large number of difficult to transport possessions don't get along well, and digital skirts the problem. I bought myself an n810 (not so much a plug as a note for what the hell I'm talking about, though I do love mine dearly) a few months ago, which has become my music player, my paperback, my casual entertainment, and my technological multitool of late, and its exacerbated the behavior even more. Along those lines I'm going to post a suggestion for a data-management/backup scheme on one of your hard drive crash posts in a minute here, but it seemed better to keep topics grouped.


stephan!e lee said...

dear Paul,

does that last part mean that you could possibly help me with my pathetic little harddrive? because that would truly be fantastic!!

i was hoping the problem would be slight, but judging by the noises he's making, it might be a little tougher than i thought. but then again, i know NOTHING about computers or hardware.

but yeah, i know what you mean about digitalization and material things. it's funny, because i hate having *things* but also hate having technology. and since *things* are so dependable and less easily lost, i tend to go the opposite way, and want to accumulate more things rather than evaporate them.

ah well, to each his own.

and i'm gonna have to look into one of those nifty little gadgets (though at this point it looks like i'll have to wait until i can afford it...)


Paul said...

Said gadget is basically an ipod touch (with a better screen and real keyboard) for people who don't like apple's "You can only use it how we think you should" attitude.
I actually do have some suggestions for getting things off a "dead" drive in addition to the posted backup scheme, but conversing in blogger comments sucks and it appears to obscure google IDs now, so drop me an IM on AIM (which you don't appear to have), gchat (which you appear to have), account PAPPPmAc (either system) and I'll see if I can figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Atypical Daydreamer story ALERT:
Been taking my dad to chemo for a few months now and, thank godes, it is now in a nearby town. Now, this town has two things: the only local stationary TV broadcaster and one of the few music stores in the region (they opened a branch here just over ten years ago, because, of course they knew I needed to buy my guitars at that time (-;). So the downtown is great and I am looking at (GASP OF GASPS!!) driving to local smal towns to do megashoping this year. Found a GREAT men's store which had al kinds of made in canada work wear (which is al I buy now for clothing) and corner gas paraphernalia (SPLCHK) - my old one and only TV show. Now I am adicted to an old program (more on my lastcomer tradition to come....) about fixing poorly contracted construction.

I heard from an artist that there was a nice suply store here, another rarity. (One of canadas most aclaimed (canonized) writers set her stories in this town). So I walked by. Lights off. Next door was a photography shop. I walked in, thinking Daydreamer thoughts. Walked out. Went one more door down into a computer store, asking for my standby (I need touchscreen covers for my pocket computer - I knew they wouldnt have, but inquired about the art suply store). He said the photo shop and the art shop are joined.

Back to the photo shop and the guy took me through the doorway (which I didnt previous see) into the art suply half of the store.

It felt like entering a dungeon. The lights are rarely on. "No one comes here anymore," some Egor voice spoke from a dark corner. Cobwebs, you get the picture.

Was great to be in a suply store again. I abandoned my paper work (which is al I worked on) for computers over a decade ago. Palet knives, pastel sets, canvasboard al brings back memories.

Then I mentioned I was on a video chat with like 54 ladies doing scrapbooking. He laughed and said that ones been dead for several years now.

Every turning point in my life is marked by something like a one by two meter collage I do from scraps built up in one of my tote junkboxes in my closet. But because its been al COMPUTER COMPUTER COMPUTER COMPUTER, the build-up is over-flowing.

I have two secret weapons remaining from my paper days (three if you include my chinese art suply, but my master moved back to hong kong, so....): drafting suplies to create art (drafts folk use computers now) and binder paper. Binder paper is interesting cos it could cost les than a half peny per sheet, far down from the reams of busines paper I bought for ilustration and animation (I am finished the box of ten reams I bought). So I aculumate a bankers box ful of the stuf.

So I think I wil seperate my 2D scraps from my 3D scraps and get some 7cm+ binders and go.... scrapbooking! Er, SCRAPBINDERING.

The end

Story writen by yours truly,

Cheers and death to computers.

stephan!e lee said...

hahaha... my boyfriend's younger brother was working on a scrapbook for his frat and shy-d away from using the term as well. i think he finally settled on calling it a "captain's log." whatever, it's totally still a scrapbook. OWN IT.

anyway, YES, death to computers, indeed!

if they didn't make writing a whole lot faster and easier, i would probably try to eliminate them from my life completely.

good to hear from you again!

Anonymous said...

I don't have a cell phone or PDA and I don't belong to any social networks. I do have a blog and that's the extent of my interaction.

Maybe you could send me a letter. :)

remaerdyaD said...

Nice to coment with you again. Been folowing you from twitter.com/remaerdyaD btw. Catch me as a transform myself from the greatest living artist to the cRaZiEsT cRaFtSmAn oN tEh gLoBe with daily crafts & zero profit economy. But hury, my stream provider is yanking my acount again....

stephan!e lee said...

sure, Brian! i still need your address though.

i think i'm going to take up letter-writing as a habit. i think it's a good one to have. i just found my box of stationery and stamps and my address book as well, so plan on writing to ppl very soon!