Digital Desires; the Drift of the Real

I heard a story on the radio. About a woman who disappeared. She left her family and her farm, walked across a field and was never seen nor heard from again.

What if you met someone, not through friends or work, but via an anonymous configuration of pixels and megabytes, router signals and servers and domains? What if you reached out through the computer screen and found someone there.

What if someone appears suddenly, out of nowhere – can they disappear as suddenly, too?

Have the boundaries between stranger and friend become too porous? In this society of screens and images, is there no real, as the postmodern philosophers have argued?

(And yet, you know it was real, all of it).

This how we live. Molding words on a laptop while watching TV. Tightly holding onto a cellphone on the street, as though you are clutching someone’s hand. Texting during meetings, emailing in the cafe, facebooking in the office. This is how we meet people, how we stay in touch with loved ones. The shimmer of screens, the blur of people coming and going, the dizzying movement of it all.

But it is also true that people met in person can disappear too. And that sometimes people return, they emerge out of nowhere it seems, an old friend one has lost touch with, her round boyish face smiles tenderly at you in a cafe and suddenly you are meeting regularly to mark papers and gossip and drink smooth lattes in that same cafe and a ritual has developed where there was none before, a still point in this disembedded global chaos.

Perhaps it is community, the mesh of history and obligation, that human configuration of friends, family, gossip, that keeps it real.

2 Comments

  1. Lovely post!

    Slightly off topic, the story of that woman who disappeared has been used for the basis of what sounds like a very good play currently running in Toronto. But, I bet you knew that already!

  2. I was on a web site the other day of an anti-poverty activist who has written a cook book of recipes from food bank hampers (http://kitchen-magic.synthasite.com/). One of my favourite links on her site was one called “interactive”. I went there, looking for new online technologies for marginalized groups. What she was actually talking about was in-person real life sessions for people learning how to cook. A good reminder for me, who is always talking about “warm bodies” being the only route to effective community organizing, online or off …

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