I ran across an article this week that inspired me to think a little more carefully about what we are doing here. By “here” I am referring to this little corner of the inter-tubes called the GOPLifer blog. Are we accomplishing something useful with the time we invest in this forum, are is this just another form of entertainment that helps us while away the hours?
Dougald Hine wrote a piece for Aeon magazine questioning the value of the Internet and our endless access to information. The gist of it is that information, in an of itself, has no particular merit. The value comes from our engagement with what we learn.
Information is perhaps the rawest material in the process out of which we arrive at meaning: an undifferentiated stream of sense and nonsense in which we go fishing for facts. But the journey from information to meaning involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience. No matter how experienced we become, success cannot be guaranteed. In most human societies, there have been specialists in this skill, yet it can never be the monopoly of experts, for it is also a very basic, deeply human activity, essential to our survival. If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by.
That mass of data can be a tool for enlightenment or a means by which we find the nearest coffee shop. Or it can be a numbing stream that leaves us alienated, disengaged, and frozen.
…if the deep roots of boredom are in a lack of meaning, rather than a shortage of stimuli, and if there is a subtle, multilayered process by which information can give rise to meaning, then the constant flow of information to which we are becoming habituated cannot deliver on such a promise. At best, it allows us to distract ourselves with the potentially endless deferral of clicking from one link to another. Yet sooner or later we wash up downstream in some far corner of the web, wondering where the time went. The experience of being carried on these currents is quite different to the patient, unpredictable process that leads towards meaning.
Personally, I use this space to work out the stream of ideas in my head, weaving them from a mass of twisted fibers into something that seems to make sense, something that can be more neatly stored and used. I suppose, however, that if that process is never paired with action, if this is just an electric journal, I might just as well be watching Gilligan’s Island reruns.
Could an entire blog be successfully devoted to the endless Ginger vs. Mary Ann controversy? Are we sure this isn’t the same thing?