May 20th, 2010 10:26 EST
What is behind the snarkiness and anger coming through the web?
Are we lonely in the midst of gales of information and opinion pelting us on paper and in cyberspace?
Could our loneliness account for the popularity of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, smart phones and all the other networking gadgetry that has become ubiquitous?
In the middle of my life I sat near a guy in a diner in Manhattan and overheard a memorable exchange between him and our waitress. All by your lonesome tonight, honey? she asked him. Haven`t ya heard, he said, we`re all alone all the time.
It could have come out of Hemingway`s The Killers or a David Mamet script. The handsome, melancholy man had said something I had never contemplated. We are alone, no matter how many friends, no matter how gregarious we are, no matter how popular or successful. We are alone. I regarded that man as the angel of death. Out of his mouth had fallen a terrible truth, a truth we sometimes go to absurd lengths to conceal. Sometimes it`s scary. We are born into something, sometimes a mess, sometimes a joyous celebration. But to what are we borne when we depart alone? What is borne out?
And does Facebook and our jittery texting somehow ease the burden of this awful loneliness?
I thought of this again Saturday evening when I attended the opening of a friend`s studio in Phoenicia, New York. Wendy Drolma makes masks for all occasions, all reasons. Beautiful, artful, enigmatic masks. Not grotesqueries. And she makes sculpture. One of her sculptures (the second picture in the preceding post) is a wall piece of balled up pages, wire and thread script. " Balled-up pages the size of marbles "like spitballs. I thought of something I had read becoming a spitball and it rattled me.
I read something, I crumple it up and bloop it into a basket. There is some satisfaction if I hit the basket, and mild annoyance if I miss. There is also contempt in balling up the page, turning it into a missile. Is this similar to the snarkiness I often see on the web? The unaccountable anger, the seizing of an opportunity to misunderstand and to lash out?
Smart-phone exhibitionists "look at me, I`m hot, I`m popular, I`m important, I`m busy "conceal a strain of aggression, surely. This is what ticks off some baseball players when an opponent indulges in a bit too much fist pumping. This acting out of one`s importance is correctly, I think, seen as narcissism and contempt. The smart phone becomes an element of stagecraft.
Texting acronyms and codifications can be employed entertainingly and politely or they can miff, diss and bite. I see heartbreakingly sweet messaging on the web and I see vulgar and even despicable texting, some of which was directed at my last post about language.
Loneliness is perhaps an aspect of our mortality, and if technology has handed us some measure of assuagement, how can that be anything but good? Politically, our isolation from each other has always enabled people who are up to no good to impose their will on us.
One of the tasks of writers is to become a familiar of the zeitgeist. In this role I have a hunch that the distance between us and the celebrity objects of our worship is so great "compared, say, to the intimacy of the Greeks with their gods "that we have become afflicted with despair. They become richer and thinner as we become fatter and poorer. They`re out of reach in a way the Greek gods never were, and they don`t care about us the way the Greek gods cared about humans, for better or worse.
Our media pipes the glamor of others to us and in the name of communicativeness shows us in every way that they belong to celebrities who regard us as consumer bots, the modern equivalent of galley slaves. Our job is to buy and to worship. In their obsession to discipline us in this manner the media even enjoin us to buy more while we are paid less, to overreach, and then when our overreaching became catastrophic we were blamed for our improvidence.
This madness, this brutal paradox alienates us. We are supposed to literally consume ourselves. In this context, I think the technological networking we are witnessing is a breakout from this dilemma, or at least an attempt to break out. I think people see an opportunity to circumvent a kind of system of which they have become distrustful. In the popular mind the power elite is no longer needed to lay down the rules by which people communicate. Behind the scenes, of course, the power elite, the telecommunications giants, are working hard to gain some kind of control of the Internet. Those who now fume angrily about taxes and government and immigration would do well to consider that Internet control may be the greatest threat of all to our freedoms and aspirations.
We live in a culture that tells us every day that we are no use to it at all except as consumers. It will entertain and dun us as along as it tries to bleed every last cent from us. After that we are its discards. I think there is growing understanding of this phenomenon being expressed in many unrecognizable and sometimes disquieting ways on the Internet. But it is being voiced. We wish to count. We do not wish to be mere consumer bots and then roadside trash.
And the politicians and the media understand that if we can vent our anger in thousands of ways on the Internet we can vent it at them; it can be focused.
I`m trying to find my way through my many changing feelings about the Internet and the culture it`s creating. I have hunches and insights, but I think each has its blind alleys, its potential for miscue and wrong-headedness. And yet I feel that we are all grasping for an understanding of a potential that exhilarates us and scares the hell out of the governing elite. When I use the word governing I do not mean to limit it to government. I think we are as governed by corporations and banks as we are by their political stooges.
But we are certainly living in a new environment, one less hospitable to bad guys, I hope. For that reason, wouldn`t it be better to direct our anger at those who are plotting to limit our access to the web and control its content? That is far more threatening to our future than taxes, immigrants and big government. Big government, after all, comes in many sizes and shapes, including Wall Street. Washington has by no means cornered the market on it. Wall Street is quite happy for us to direct our rage at Washington.
As for me, if all this marvelous technology helps us to be less lonely, less isolated, more in touch with each other and with each other`s ideas and feelings, then I will gladly tolerate the snarks and admire the exhibitionists. I think that is the direction into which we`re heading "a less lonely, less alienated society, and that means a society less vulnerable to predators.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com