Friday, July 30, 2010

Don't go with the flow

In a piece entitled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flow, Peggy Nelson finds something positive in her conversational partners' abrupt interruptions to deal with their cell phones. At first, like most of us, she felt cut off from her friends across the table.

Eventually I learned to stop worrying and love the flow. The pervasiveness of the new multiplicity, and my participation in it, altered my perspective. Altered my Self. The transition was gradual, but eventually I realized I was on the other side. I was traveling with friends, and one of them took a call. Suddenly, instead of feeling less connected to the people I was with, I felt more connected, both to them and to their friends on the other end of the line (whom I did not know). My perspective had shifted from seeing the call as an interruption to seeing it as an expansion. And I realized that the story I had been telling myself about who I was had widened to include additional narratives, some not “mine,” but which could be felt, at least potentially and in part, personally. A small piece of the global had become, for the moment, local. And once that has happened, it can happen again. The end of the world as we know it? No — it’s the end of the world as I know it, the end of the world as YOU know it — but the beginning of the world as WE know it. The networked self is a verb.

I have no idea what that last sentence means, but I think the gist of what she is saying is clear enough.

Nelson goes on to find dubious links between this phenomenon and the possibilities for greater participation in storytelling through current technologies like Twitter (and the cell phone itself), particularly the telling of the story that is our life as a species and as a global society. It makes sense that Nelson would try to connect her sophistry to the global-connectivity trope in order to lend her argument some weight. All you have to do, though, is to ask yourself how connected you feel to a stranger you can't see or hear, monopolizing the friend you can see and hear, and all "the networked self" blathering sounds like so much horse manure.

If I wanted brief, vapid, abruptly truncated conversations, I'd attend a party. If I'm breaking bread with you and it's not to discuss a business deal, I'd like you to be here now, if I may abuse Ram Dass' famous phrase.

"The flow" is an illusion. What's real is right in front of you. Across the table, in fact.

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