One can be overwhelmed today. As Billy Joel sang, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” However, we sure as hell can’t put this bad boy out any longer either. Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, WordPress, Flickr, Stumblr, StumblUpon, Google Plus, etc. And those are just your options for communication. Those are just the 1000 doors to open into the Matrix to say hi to your neighbors, no matter their physical location.
My best friend lives in China. We have hundreds of options to stay in touch. The least instantaneous of which is probably the most intimate, the hand-written letter. As a child, I knew these inky whispers. Even into adulthood, I have taken it upon myself to write things out by hand on occasion. However, I cannot send her a music video, a funny link, an e-card, and one of my favorite lyrics from a Shelley poem via snail mail. Which brings the value to attention.
Is there something inherently valuable in the speed at which we are able to ‘talk,’ not to mention, the options we have in ‘speaking?’ Would you like to ‘Facetime?’ How about a ‘skype?’ It is hard to argue with a beautiful pair of eyes twinkling above a loving smile from 7,000 miles away–pixelated, or not. In this case, I say, pick your poison. There are lots that kill.
Aside from the problems enveloped by distance, what does all of this environmental ‘noise’ do to the traditional environment of communication? Do all of these options drown out the more traditional channels of message delivery and reception? Does anyone need to talk any longer? Should we all just stay jacked in all the time and forget about smiling and laughing with our neighbors? Better yet, can we forget these things?
Marshall McLuhan’s answer would be a resounding no. I think the evidence tends to aid the Canadian contrarian’s prescience. Do a google search for word of mouth studies. Better yet, think about what I just told you to do. Is it laziness? Or am I just minimizing my word count? Even in the 60s, the Ulyssean understood our journey towards a constantly jabbering ‘global village’ of locals. He, like Joyce before him, understood that communication, no matter how seemingly overwhelming it might be, is never ‘white noise.’
Though aural, it is more symphonic. There are organic patterns and rhythms to our communication like the waxing and waning of the moon. Ever take a few days break from facebook? You wouldn’t be the first. When was your last tweet? I’m betting people use these channels the same way they speak with their friends. People are fickle. We all lose interest. We seek to expand our ‘network’ if you will. If there are more options, then of course, the networks will be larger in scope and more eccentric in their application. But both depend on the needs of the population. More so than even the motion picture camera, the Internet is a medium of the people and for the people. Note the Arab Spring. Note the proliferation of pornography. Note the presence of viruses (also transmitted orally, like words). Note the fear of governments like China’s.
Fear might be more present on the Internet because more people are on it than outside. There might be more anger and more laughs on the Internet because people choose to switch those channels on more often. I would argue that if the television is the ‘village fire’ of McLuhan, than today’s age of constant updates and ever-rising rivers of information is a stock exchange floor.
We are no longer Cameron Frye from Ferris Bueller’s famous Day Off, using our fingers to mimic the trades. We are all of the buyers, traders, sellers, bulls, bears, tickers, tickets, reams. We are the confetti on the floor that doesn’t get swept up. It may seem to build and build. However, navigation is possible because we are all of these things. A duck knows another duck. Paper knows other papers. Shuffling feet know one another like old friends from grade school. Trades can tell one from the other.
We have a choice to dive in and be swept away in a shuffle of paper and feet and yelling, or to stand tall and make our own trades. With choice comes immersion. With immersion comes the architecture of instinct–seen in the village’s people (remember Gladwell’s reference to Shaker communities maintaining a maximum of 150? Or Social Darwinism?) With choice, we begin to create the ecosystem where change can happen, or not. Some will adapt. Some will survive. There is no fire. There is no brooms. There is no spoon. There is no Steve. There is only Choice.
One will always have Choice. Perhaps this is the first time in history where an organism can view its own mutation in real time. Imagine an organism that creates a mythos and a network of Gods around the idea that boundaries of communication will forever prevent the specie from unification. Imagine this mythos looming larger and larger in the minds of your neighbors all the while remaining firmly an anthill under your All Stars…
I have friends that have never sent a text in their life. I know people that only have one email address. I once met a guy that never heard of CSS. I even knew this one guy that didn’t know about typography in books. Ask your local designer if he knows the real meaning of the word fount. Ask your local architect about the different types of trellis. Ask a film student what montage means. Some of them will be quiet. Some of them might tweet their feelings at your audacity around the world…
Watch out for the ones that comment on the comments. Be conscious of the exchange room floor. Better yet, be conscious of the exchange, no matter the utensil you choose for dining at this buffet. It is full of all the surprise and delight of a fully-stocked casino meal-in-a-hurry. Maybe it’s meatloaf. Maybe it was meatloaf. You don’t have to try it all. For now, you can be both krill and whale or krill or whale. At least, for now…