Our Illusion of Connectivity

I go to facebook. I go to email. I check all the addresses. I go back to facebook. I check my blog. I go back to facebook. In all, I find not what I am looking for. It is not satisfying. I see posts I share. I read here and there. On email I get Truthout, read through the articles. Find one that is really interesting. Read to the bottom. Post on facebook. Go back to email. Go to facebook. Read Salon, click on the link to Continue Reading. In spite of my solid belief that this election is meaningless, I still recoil when a friend likes Romney. He’s such a self-absorbed, arrogant ass, an emotional toddler. And his running mate, ewww. That guy is a sociopath. I have a physical reaction to them and wonder what is wrong when someone I know thinks this person is worth supporting. Then again, I feel frustration at the Obama love too. He’s not the Jesus they want him to be. He’s worse than Bush. He gets away with more because the Dems have their man so no one is paying attention. Ughh. Go back to email. Nothing. Something from Powell’s. Something from Bug of the Day. Go back to facebook. Share a picture of some cute animal or funny thing from George Takei, but overall. No connection. Not really.

I go to these websites alone in my house looking for a connection but there is not one. I want to communicate. I want conversation. I want intellectual stimulation. I want to discuss philosophy, that amazing talk by Alain de Botton on atheism. I want someone else to care as much as I do about what we are doing to our planet. But it’s all futility, bytes and pixels and illusion that there is connection. Searching from page to page, hoping one of the people I know will actually speak to me, to ME, and not to the general public that is their online community, is an exercise in futility. We claim to be more connected than ever, but we are further from connection than ever before. Just because I can share a comment with a friend I met in the Hague last summer does not mean there is any connection. It’s so minute as to be laughable. I read a story that brings tears to my eyes. Instead of talking to a friend about the details there, I post a comment that says, “Dang, I cried.” “Me too,” she comments back. That’s the extent of it.

I long for stimulating dinner parties with friends. Or sharp banter about books over warm drinks in a cafe. Or even stupid, silly dancing and laughing with a best girlfriend. Yet I know this is an idealized version of community cultivated by movies and books. It doesn’t exist for most of us. It sure as hell doesn’t exist for me. I’ve tried to pull it together, to be the one who invites everyone over to make some feeble attempt at this, but no one ever shows up. I have a serious knack for being stood up at parties by all my guests. I think the problem isn’t that I’m some loser or something, but that I have an idealized idea of how these things should be, and that most or all of my friends have other things to do and are simply too busy.

So I troll. I make phone calls when I’m in the car and can’t do anything else (don’t worry, I have a car phone and I’m completely hands free). I write here and wonder if anyone I know will read what I write. They don’t, but I don’t begrudge them. If what I said was interesting, they would still be too busy, just as I am too busy too. It’s our 21st century, with its illusion of connectivity. It’s sad really. Sometimes I wish I had a big, ol’ front porch in a close-knit community where everyone came and shot the breeze. I know, I know. Too many movies like The Jane Austen Book Club, or Fried Green Tomatoes. It’s what some team thought of and put together on celluloid. I get it. Just like the teams that make families in catalogs look just a little too perfect. Just like Photoshop. It’s all an illusion. I don’t think we are better off. Not even close. It’s lonelier. It’s isolating. And I have no idea how to change it, at least for me.

America the Ugly

Milla’s dad informed me that a store I was looking for was in Longmont, Colorado.  Considering I have explored the south and the east of Boulder fairly well, and also considering Milla was spending the day with her dad, I decided to traipse on over to see if I could find the store and check out the town.

No offense to Longmontites, but what a disappointment.  Longmont is covered in ugly, bland, spread-out big box stores and their smaller corporate cousins.  The houses were modern bland equivalencies, the sort preferred by developers who buy their blueprints from Plans-R-Us.  Maybe I turned around to leave too soon, but I did not discover a prettier town center.  I had to get out.  The place sucked the life out of me.  Like so many truly homogenized American towns, the place had no aesthetics, no character, nothing.  No wonder so many Americans are depressed.

Going to Longmont, Colorado was exactly the same as going to Redding, California, which was exactly the same as going to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was exactly the same as going to Beaverton, Oregon, only flatter.  With few exceptions, American towns have zero character.  It is impossible to tell you are in another city in another state other than the fact that the license plates are different.  People lament the lack of community in America today; perhaps part of the problem is that we can’t tell one community from the other any more.

Longmont resembled the tri-cities area of eastern Washington nearly identically.  One thing Oregon has that seems to be sorely lacking in both Washington and Colorado is an urban growth boundary.  In both Colorado and Washington, buildings sprout seemingly out of nowhere, randomly placed wherever the landowner had a whim, regardless how well it fits with the landscape or where a town ends.  Lots of developers in Oregon bitch about the growth boundary, but I’m all for it.  It forces people to be creative with the space they do have.  In towns in Oregon where the boundary has been extended, the decimated orchards and fields are replaced with cloned McMansions, cloned townhomes, and hideous utilitarian corporate chains.  In the coming weeks, yards will be filled with hideous, plastic, walmart holiday atrocities.  Wretched.

While I’m not a huge fan of overly ornate, clean has translated into purely utlitarian, which basically means completely ugly.  Who knows, maybe clean wasn’t the culprit.  Perhaps it has more to do with rape and pillage development, make as much money as possible and get out.  Whatever happened to wanting to make something look nice?  Whatever happened to originality?  It was all sacrificed at the alter of the almighty dollar.

There is that Cree proverb that states, “Only when the last tree has withered, the last fish has been caught, and the last river has been poisoned, will you realize you cannot eat money.”  It seems when money is the only consideration or the highest consideration, not only are life and nature sacrificed, so too is beauty.  What a shame.

We should change the name of the song “America the Beautiful.”  It does not hold true any longer.  We are now America the Boring, America the Utilitarian, America the Ugly.  We don’t need some futuristic, sci-fi warning of a world in a plastic bubble to worry about.  We’re already there.

Drip Drip Drop Little Rain is Falling

Our local NPR station is doing one of its annual membership drives.  They bug the hell out of me.  First of all, they keep going on and on about my having not called, but how do they know?  Maybe I did.  Yeah, I know.  It’s meant for people who haven’t called, but still.  Anyway, today this listener called in and said how her local NPR station makes her feel “connected to the community” and I got to thinking, connected to the community how exactly?  Because you hear what they are telling you, that provides connection?  Then I started wondering what connection is anyway.  Everyone talks about being “connected,” but what the hell is that?  I always considered connection actually requiring something be in one piece.  But some seem to believe connection exists just by knowing some of what is going on.  I don’t know that it is.  You hear about some group doing something or you hear about how some guy shot his wife or you hear about the local elections so yeah, you’re in the know, kind of like high school.  But how are you connected to that just by knowing it occurred?  And some of these things, like hearing about how someone killed someone else, who wants to be connected to that anyway?  Since I happen to think connection connotes, well, one piece, is it one piece for information to be broadcast and for me to hear it without really giving anything back? I suppose if the person on the radio told me about some volunteer opportunity and I went and did it, then maybe by virtue of my having become one piece at some point there was a connection.  But this notion of connection because the information is out there and I hear it just doesn’t quite sit with me.

It’s funny, people seem to feel we are more connected because we can go to the internet and get information from someone across the world, or we can send an email at the drop of a hat or pick up a phone and dial, and maybe in the context of the phone we can have a connection because another person can be on the other end.  But so much of it is an illusion of connectivity.  There really isn’t one piece.  There is one person at one end of an electronic device doing something or hearing or seeing something on the electronic device.  At another time, and possibly simultaneously, there is another person or several people in various places connected to electronic devices and interacting with them.  But the actual people are not necessarily actually connected, especially when it comes to the internet.

I thought about this a lot when I internet dated, something I have given up for good.  It creates this illusion of intimacy.  You go through essentially a catalogue looking for the right visual stimuli that appeals to you on whatever level, be it through photos or what is posted about the person, or what they have to say, whatever.  Then, while sitting alone at a keyboard, you send some signal letting them know you are interested.  At some point in the future, they get your signal, look at your marketing tools, then ignore the signal or respond via another electronic signal.  If that happens to be email, you can spend hours, days, weeks even, sitting and typing at the computer without ever having encountered the other human being.  You may discuss things in depth.  You may keep it light.  Whatever.  The point is, it is an illusion because you have never actually connected to that human being, at least in terms of connection being in one piece.  No wonder it is so easy for dishonesty to proliferate.  I’m not arguing that people can’t lie when they hook up in bars, but at least there you have the visual clues to go along with what is being communicated verbally to ascertain how much of what is going on is the truth.  I would suspect the same is true receiving information from various forms of media and assuming it is true and assuming we are connected.  It’s an illusion and it’s easier to be deceived.

If the rain is falling all at once, are the drops connected before they land?  If I am driving in my car with others on the road, are we connected by virtue of heading in the same direction?  I suppose the answers could be yes and no, spanning science and the metaphysical.  I don’t know.  I think I’ll go ponder these connundrums while I take a shower.