There And Back...Again

And then I get to come home and stare into another (smaller) screen to work on applications and a personal essay and and and...there's a lot of work to do. Sometimes I feel like all I have energy for is to keep myself from falling ever further inward and downward. Part loneliness, part...something. I do not do well with nothing to do, with nothing to think about, without novelty.

Whether that novelty is in the milieu about me (travel) or in a sense of intellectual voyage makes no real difference. I am quite happy to gaze at NASA's APoD blog, wondering at the scale of the cosmos. Which leads me to realize that the internal force I am missing is a sense of wonder, of engagement. Maybe wonder for me is a form of connection, in the way history can ground one in place (even being a "foreign" history, as if geography but not time separates human lives).

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 January 10 showcasing "Nacreous Clouds"

So what can I do? Engage with a world, but through means of my choosing. Through the internet still, yes: it is where most information of various A/V formats now lives; but not through the same stagnant platforms whose only goal is their own entrenchment.

Books, for that reason, are a delight. The less controlled a medium is, the less trustworthy that what it is delivering will follow you in your goal. As H.G. Creel put it: "Intellectual freedom requires intellectual work." There is no pride in allowing power to wholly fabricate a self to inhabit. Marshall McLulahan had that right ("The Medium is the Message").

Information Superhighway

I was thinking about it (and wrote longhand on Saturday over this topic) and I realized I can't really say I have gotten anything of value from using social media. Occasionally I like to see what someone is doing on facebook, but mostly it is news stories (the same ones everywhere); ads disguised as news (everywhere); and political vitriol (ads disguised as politics disguised). And it's just not critical enough for me to care about.

I tire of the great bowing and scraping towards the mythical C E N T E R in naked attempts to make money off of every possible perspective, to turn perspective itself into money (a fungible means of equivalence to every other perspective or proximity).

But rather than another tired diatribe, I wish to focus on learning. On that sense of wonder I used to approach the world with. Without a care for what other people thought of my attempts. I have always been an odd mixture of easily embarassed and brazenly confident. More like moods than any real personality "trait" that would suggest a stable self.

Anyway: I want to spend that time reading Said «Orientalism» through the first time; «World, Text, Critic». And reading Franz Fanon, writing in this little journal; learning German; learning Python; learning about Space and the wide world that abounds through all things.

In short: I want to engage with CONTENT, not a PLATFORM. Which is what I fear most of the internet (and our interactions?) has become. There are massive gatekeepers playing at being meek and humble content delivery systems, but in reality there are enormous highways erected between a tiny handful of locations all owned and controlled by the same power.

Reddit only ever leads to reddit. Google and facebook keep watch over everything, and Amazon busies itself spidering along the cables.

I was spending more time scrolling infinite pages than reading the infinite knowledge that was (is!) just at my fingertips. Clicking on links to open interesting articles, reading the headline then heading back to the PLATFORM for more. This is not engagement, this is not learning. This is not even really enjoyable. I felt, in the language of so many others who have expressed a vague sort of melancholy with the digital ecosystem, "co-opted." Like my choices weren't truly mine anymore, they were habits that I watched myself perform, an uncannily lifelike representation of my interests.

So earlier today as I glance back through my ~/Articles folder, I was somewhat floored. This is the stuff I used to read? I used to spend time booping through publications "Broken Windows critique.pdf" or "Liberalism Without Humanism" or "Gender Quotas in Collectivistic Cultures Work."

It got me to thinking, and I am not sure if longitudinally this holds--but it seems that everywhere is the same news stories now. The FT, the BBC, CNN, MSNBC...there's a "big story" every day or every other day that gets bandied about in all the outlets, with very similar coverage (accounting for publication's higher or lower degree of right-wing bent) and it gets talked about endlessly within that narrow band.

I don't feel like we see much content in the FT anymore about Corporate Media Consolodation (Chevron and BP own something like 40% of "small town" newspapers in the US, FT 2013); there's less articles about Hong Kong billionaires seizing control of the city government (FT, 2014).

Perspectives, for whatever reasons, seem to have converged. And more than just the political perspectives, but the very subjects of stories themselves. It is as if the present has overwhelmed everything and everyone. That at some point in the past decade, capitalisms' accelerating tendancy caught up with and began to cannibalize itself.

I am reminded of a line from Akomfrah's «The Last Angel of History», a call-and-response line a Sun Ra song that goes: "It's after the end of the world/ don't you know that yet?" And yet here we are, still living as if the world is, rather than was. Missing the new day growing beneath us.

It's anyone's guess what today looks like. But that it at least has the chance to grow. I think that's important.