I don’t like it when words are used as stones on a Go board, or statements used as chess-pieces—those are combat simulations—since when did communication become combat? For that matter, when did words become the only form of communication? Actions speak louder than words, but words, or perhaps videos’ scripts, are considered a life-connection from you or me to someone halfway round the world. Am I really connected to those people? Funny story (you know I accept friend-requests from anyone) this new Facebook-friend of mine only posts in Arabic—it’s beautiful stuff, but I don’t even know the basic phonemes of that written language—and I had to ask him to tell me his name (or equivalent sound) in Roman script.
I don’t want to get into a debate here about argument. Formal argument, or debate, is certainly useful and productive—as is regular old arguing, when it’s done with restraint or when its goal is an elusive solution or resolution. The Scientific Method, itself, is an implied debate—a conflict between prior theories and the new theories that overthrow them—or that are overthrown thereby—no, I’m not saying that communication isn’t rife with conflict—my purpose here is to discuss other forms of communication and sharing. So, please, let’s not argue (—jk).
I finally realized that all these unsolicited friend requests from the Mid-East were because I was using a photo of Malala Yousafzaya as my Profile Pic! I’m glad—now I know they’re not shadowy extremists trying to cultivate an American connection—they are instead the liberals of their geographic zone.
Such international friends frustrate me—the lack of words that I don’t type could be just as offensive as any thoughtless words I post—and there are plenty of those. I wish I knew what they were. Whenever someone wants to Facebook-friend me as their American friend, I start right in on criticizing all their grammar faux pas and misunderstood colloquialisms—they love it—that’s what they want from their American friend. I’m afraid geek-dom knows no borders—only my fellow geeks from faraway lands appreciate criticism—I’m sure people with the Cool gene flock together across the datasphere as well (but then, I’ll never know—will I?)
But communication, as a means of sharing ideas and organizing cooperative efforts, is far more than a battle of witty words. Political cartoons, cartoon cartoons, obscene gestures, and ‘making out’ come first to mind—although there are plenty more examples. The Media (a term I use to denote People magazine, other newspapers and periodicals, radio, cable-TV, VOD, cable-news, talk shows, private CC security footage, YouTube and the omnipresent Internet.) I say… the Media is looking for trouble.
They aren’t broadcasting cloudless summer skies or a happy family sitting around the dinner table or the smoothly proceeding commuter traffic a half a mile from the traffic accident. And I don’t blame them. Their job is to entertain—that’s what pays their bills. And I don’t blame us, either. We are happier watching dramatic thrills than watching paint drying. There’s no getting around that.
And I won’t play the reactionary and suggest that we go back to a time when entertainment was a brief treat enjoyed, at most, once a week. Even the idle rich (and this is where that ‘idle’ part comes from) just sat around socializing when they weren’t at a fox-hunt or a ball. To be entertained was almost scandalous—think of it—in a deeply religious society, such escapism went against the morality of the times—and even as a once-a-week diversion, it was frowned upon not only to be a stage player, but to attend the performance, as well.
But entertainment, like a gas, expands to fit the size of its civilization—those old scruples took a few centuries to kick over, but once the digital age had dawned it seemed quite natural that everyone should have access to twenty-four-hour-a-day entertainment (call it ‘news and current events’, if it helps). And now we have people walking into walls and driving their cars into walls while they stare fixedly at their entertainment devices.
So, trite as the word may seem, Media is a mandatory entity to include in any discussion of the human condition. And more importantly, it must be a part of the Communication topic, as well—most especially with a view towards a formulation of culture that does not make conflict our primary means of sharing and informing our minds. So let’s recap—Entertainment equals drama equals conflict equals fighting (See ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’). Information equals scientific method equals discussion equals human rights (See ‘Bruce Willis’—jk).
To begin, there is one thing that needs to be acknowledged—learning is NOT fun. I’d love it if it was—I know fun can be used to teach some things—It’s a lovely thought—but, No. Learning is a process of inserting information into the mind. People talk a lot about transcendental meditation but, for real focus, learning is the king. To learn, one must be patient enough to listen; to absorb an idea, one must be willing to admit that one doesn’t know everything; to completely grasp a new teaching, one may even have to close ones eyes and just concentrate—nothing more, no diversions, no ringtone, no chat, no TV, no nothing—just thinking about something that one is unfamiliar with—and familiarizing oneself.
We forget all that afterward—the proof in that is that none of us graduate from an educational institution with the ability to ‘sub’ for all the teachers we’ve studied under. We have learned, but only a part of what was taught—it’s implications, ramifications, uses, and basic truths may have eluded us while we ‘learned to pass the class’. Contrariwise, our teachers may have bit their tongues—eager to share some little gem of Mother Nature’s caprice implicit in the lesson plan—and had instead put the ‘teaching of the class to pass’ before the ‘teaching of the class’.
And that is no indictment of teaching, that’s just a fact—it doesn’t prevent me from admiring great teachers. But I couldn’t help notice that great teachers always color outside the lines in some few ways. Teaching people to learn for themselves, with that vital lesson neatly tucked into the course-plan of the material subject of a course—it takes effort, discipline, and way more patience than that possessed by most of the rest of us—but it also requires an allegiance to the Truth of Plurality, that incubator of eccentricity.
But we forget our Learning. It becomes something we simply ‘know’, something that we just ‘know how to do’. Part of good parenting is learning to teach well—young people have the luxury of just understanding something, while parents must struggle to figure out how to explain it, or teach it, to their children. And then we forget about that learning—and must scratch our heads again, struggling to explain ‘explaining’ to our grown-up, new-parent offspring. It’s a light comedy as much as anything else.
So learning is not fun. There is a thrill involved, however, that is almost always worth the ticket price. The internet and the TV blare words at us in their millions, info to keep us up-to-date—just a quick update—and now there’s more on that—and we’ll be hearing a statement from the chief of police….—also, we are seduced by lush orchestrations or driven musical beats, by the gloss and beauty and steel and flesh of literal eye-candy, and that dash of soft-core porn that is the engine under the hood of so many TV series.
We see breaking YouTube uploads of rioting in a faraway land—we believe that our quiet little lives are nothing, that all our sympathy and concern should be spread across the globe to billions of strangers in distress. We are flooded with information by the Media—but because it’s the Media, only conflicts and crises are shown—the peaceful, happy billions of people that pass by those crowd scenes, that seek refuge across the border, that have families and generate love to whomever gets near enough—we don’t need to see them.
But that isn’t true—it’s true for the Media, but it isn’t true for us. The Media can’t change—but we can be aware of its bias. We can take note of the fact that the Media should not be the major part of our dialogues with one another. Best of all, we can become aware of how much the Internet can teach us—if we can stop IM-ing and web-surfing and MOMPG-ing long enough to notice that the Internet is a hell of a reference book.
No, I’m not saying we should trust the Internet. I’m saying that the real information is there, and finding it and using it will be the road into the future that our best and brightest will walk along. They will pull their eyes away from the Mario Race-Cart, the YouTube uploads of kittens and car-crashing Russians, and George Takei’s Facebook page—and they will throw off the chains of Media and make it their bitch again, back where it belongs.
In WWII, fighter-group captains and flight-team leaders are always saying ‘Cut the chatter, guys—heads up!’ I think we need the same thing—everyone should have a little devil on their shoulder that says the same thing—“Hey! –so the Internet connects you to the entire civilized world—that doesn’t mean you have to say anything—it just means you can.”
Our high-tech communications infrastructure is no small part of the problem—the digital magic that flings words and pics and music all over the world bestows an importance and a dignity to our messages that many messages don’t deserve. Posting to the Internet is kind of like being on TV—it grants a kind of immortality to the most banal of text-exchanges—it can even be used against you in court—now, that’s very special and important—and now, so am I, just for posting!
So, yearning for the perennial bloodlust of Law & Order: SVU, our self-importance inflated, and our eyes off the road, we speed towards tomorrow. I hate being a cynic.
[PLEASE NOTE: All graphics courtesy of the Quebec National Gallery]