Saturday, January 15, 2005

Rambling thoughts on technology...

Reading other peoples blogs... people I don't know, but feel like I should. What a strange community they create. In my case, a community of mostly strangers. Makes me feel somewhat isolated. Then I read the blogs of people I do know and I wonder why we rarely admit the things we write about to each other-- in person.

This technology has got me thinking. Along with the hundred pages or so that I just finished reading for Teaching With Technology. I have to admit, I like technology to a certain degree. I like blogging. I like reading other peoples blogs. But I can't help but wonder how it changes how we act face to face. Do we still remember how to communicate honestly together? Or do we need computer screens between us as a safety barrier? Once removed. Once removed. Once removed.

The world is changing fast. But then again, it has always been changing fast.

My problem is that I have lived several years of my life without computers, without running water, without even electricity. Maybe it is just my world that has changed fast.

I spent an entire year of my life living in a shack in the middle of the woods. I had to hike in a half mile. I carried my drinking water in jugs; I bathed in a lake (until it froze over); I cooked my meals on an open fire; the only music I had was produced by yours truly; I read books by the light of an oil lamp; I listened to wolves howl outside my door; I ate wild plums plums for breakfast.

I spent another half year living in the high desert of Arizona in a hogan that we built ourselves. Once again, no modern conveniences. We dug a hole in the ground to keep our food fresh; we had a "fireplace" with a chimney made out of old coffee cans; the door was a scavenged piece of plywood pulled across the entrance at night to keep the critters out and the dog in; I slept in my sleeping bag on a dirt floor; I had to check my bed every night for snakes and scorpions; the stars glittered there like nowhere else.

Before all of this I spent 5 months living out of my truck. Sleeping in mountains, side-roads of city streets, on beaches of the Pacific. Every night was a new home, the only conveniences found in gas-station restrooms. But I found a lot of beauty in those 5 months. It was after that that I took up residency in the old shack.

A few years later I hopped freight trains to Alaska, then spent 9 months in India. No running water, no electricity.

While building my house I lived in a camper. I had electricity that time, but my water was clean, fresh rain water collected in buckets from the awning. It was then that I took my first writing class. I wrote on an old 1920's Smith and Corona typewriter. Clackity-clack. I took bucket showers outside, drank tea, and almost froze to death.

And now look at my life. Computers, computers, computers. Lights turned on with a switch, a toilet that flushes, a bathtub with hot water, phone ringing, refrigerator humming, stereo playing, furnace ticking, Christmas lights plugged in, guitar collecting dust, microwave preparing dinner, electric coffeepot gurgling.

And people wonder why I have such a hard time figuring out computers. My head is just not in it. True, I enjoy them. But it is not how I am naturally wired. I still haven't figured out how to put a side-bar link on this damn site! Let alone figure out how to post pictures.

Yes, I feel isolated from the technological community of today. And when I feel lonely or bored I enjoy reading other peoples blogs. But the thing is that once upon a time... I never used to feel lonely or bored. I was too busy building a fire to boil water on.
Back then I cooked dinner--delibrately. I drank tea-- delibrately. I washed dishes and clothes-- delibrately. I bathed-- delibrately. I wrote-- delibrately. I conversed with friends around the dinner table-- delibrately. I was a part of every step of my day. A part of every need. My life was forced to be slower. I wasn't nervous or jumpy around others. I wrote long letters to stay in touch with far-away friends. Friends, many of them, that I no longer know their where-abouts.

So what has changed? And how much does it have to do with this thing I type on and stare at? No wonder my eyes sometimes hurt. Too much time looking at this screen, and not enough time looking up at stars. Maybe I'm overreaciting, maybe I'm generalizing too much, but sometimes it scares me how removed we become from ourselves, our lives, our environment. It's not just technology... it's society. So where's the division? I don't know. But I am reluctant to give up life as I once knew it. I miss knowing about my friends... the old-fashioned way.

Technology connects us. But it also removes us. Will we ever find a happy medium?


Renee said...

Of all the things I have ever read that you have written (I'm talking paper, over the course of our undergraduate years, not computer - this is my favorite.) And that's all I'll say here, the rest I'm saving for face-to-face. Except this: it's my favorite because you are asking the same questions I've been asking myself this last semester.

Anonymous said...

I have often admired your work (paintings/other art and writing--via blog), and I have struggled with trying to convince myself that, going up and talking to you isn't a scary thing, and maybe I should just do it.

I think that keeping the screen between myself and those I wish to know better helps my by letting me tell myself that I can know these people enough to appease my interest in them over the internet.

But now, the screen isn't keeping me from those I wish to know better. Those people whose blogs I read and I are communicating outside of our journals.

We write the things we feel like we can tell only those who are closest to us, and yet the entire world has access to them. Those people we see daily, however, we cannot seem to connect face-to-face.

I would love to hear your stories and learn your travels, and yet something keeps me back. I remember visiting your show in the Touche during it's opening. You gave me an orange bindii. I met your mother, whom I had met before. I was impressed and wanting more.

I think I'm too afraid to say it face-to-face.

I have said it now ...

Jessie said...

And so it is by no coincidence that I saw you in the hall the other day and introduced myself, however akwardly, and hurried on my way. Where was I going? Can't remember. But, now I can officially say: "It's nice to meet you." (again) :)

Renee said...

and it is my favorite because i can see and hear what you are writing about. carrying the water, pounding on the old typewriter, sleeping in the desert.

Jessie said...

My dearest Rita, thank you for your comments. Writing is sometimes a stranges and surprising thing. It is good to have connected with someone through it. And in response to what you have been writing about...I think that is what we like so much about Virginia Woolf. She is able to do that-- over and over again.
Yours truly and delibrately,

Anonymous said...

It's nice to meet you again, too!

Having read (but not currently reading) dearest Virginia--an old friend--I can entirely agree. There is that same sense, that tangibility through which she writes. As in The Death of a Moth, when we really can see and feel that experience.

What is the source of that akwardness? Is it the knowing people, knowing details that others may not, but not knowing how to express that you know those details? Or is it the simple knowledge of others that is intimate and personal, through a computer screen and not face-to-face?

Jonathan said...

I'm afraid to say things, controversial things, face-to-face only because I sense other people's fear to confront each other and I don't want to be THAT ASSHOLE who is constantly confronting people...

I also have a hard time with stupid people, as well. Probably because I'm stupid and I want to hide it by making other people feel stupid instead, or I'm just angry at the world and attacking people is what makes me feel like I'm sucker punching our existential paradox. How's that for the typical self analysis response.

I'm also not very good at speaking my mind. I'm better at writing it. And I think our (the academy's)concentration on written rhetoric instead of oratory rhetoric is partially to blame for my circumstances. We're not touching souls here; we've got that immutable distance when we put our words into writing, as Plato would have it.