Keeping Things Simple
A friend sent me this short Kurt Vonnegut piece on keeping things simple in the information age:
Keeping things simple.
I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterwards I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, “Are you still doing typing?” Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, “OK, I’ll send you the pages.” Then I’m going down the steps, and my wife calls up, “Where are you going?” I say, “Well, I’m going to go buy an envelope.” And she says, “You’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet.” And I say, “Hush.” So I go down the steps here, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely pokerfaced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. And I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.
Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We’re dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something.
Online communities saved me and if I’m honest have made me, given me every single opportunity that’s kept me out of a trailer park. I actually think this “wishing for simpler times” nostalgia is total bullshit. I like to imagine the people protesting the wheel: “We got along fine without this contraption before!” Vonnegut should know. He was born in Indianapolis. Living disconnected from people who are like you isn’t utopia, it sucks.
Online communities have the capability of inspiring people much more than the one-directional mass media of the past 50 years. The Interwebz replace mind-numbing lowest common denominator limited-spectrum mediums like television and radio, not human interaction. How many Web sites are devoted to getting outside in your local environment, giving people guides to explore the area around them? A hell of a lot more than were ever “published” in books or TV.
This sort of self-righteous nostalgia shows a total lack of understanding of what the Internet is, does, and is going to do to us culturally. It won’t all be positive, that’s for sure, but it’s not about keeping us from “doing something”.