Tuesday, 3 November 2009

In Search of Freedom

That reminded me: I hadn’t read “The Odyssey” since college, and because I was pretty sure that my copy was at the bottom of a carton of books in faraway Minneapolis, I Googled the original text. I browsed several versions before downloading what seemed like the best translation. Because my interest lay specifically with the Sirens (quick Web break to make sure that should be uppercase), I sifted through a variety of classicists’ interpretations of their role. Then — and this seemed reasonable enough — I searched for the “Sirens” episode in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” I can’t quite recollect how I got to the video for the song “Sirens,” by the alternative rock group AVA, but that put me in mind of Blink-182 (with whom AVA shares a frontman), so I clicked over to that band’s site to check for any updates on the release of its new album, then watched its reunion performance from February’s Grammy Awards. . . . When I looked up, three and a half hours had passed.

And that is why I need the mast. It came in the form of an app called Freedom, which blocks your Internet access for up to eight hours at a stretch. The only way to get back online is to reboot your computer, which — though not as foolproof as, say, removing the modem entirely and overnighting it to yourself (another strategy I’ve contemplated) — is cumbersome and humiliating enough to be an effective deterrent.

Peggy Orenstein wants to stop the net so she can get out; indeed, if they want to imbue communications skills in our twenty-first century children then 'Net Focus' should be a fundamental skill taught in schools from grade one on. I tell my kids how, in my day 'research' meant many trips to many libraries, letters written, lectures and films desperately collected so as to amass sufficient information for any meaningful study -- in their era the key skills is to valve the incessant barrage of information, the judiciously filtre all but that which is most salient to the point, and to be wary of going out looking for information, because where once the hawkers wanted to sell you snake oil potions, today they want your attention drawn to a description of it.

'Sirens' is a pretty apt metaphor, really, and Ulysses was probably wise to keep the access to himself only while empowering the crew to constrain his own experience with it.

No wait, turn back!! I need to look that up on the Wikipedia!! C'mon guys ... just one more YouTube and we can head home. Did you know these Sirens used to record for Polygram? ...

There's another aspect to this that I've blogged on before, on the old site, and that is the slant of the 'information' acquired from a device that thinks 'Java' is a programming idiom and while it incessantly compares Windows with the Macintosh they never actually defenestrate the fruit: Someone once said that computers were a great aid to doing only those tasks that do not need doing, and after now 24 years online, I begin to wonder if the Internet contains any information, any signal within the noise. So rather than buy some software to turn my computer off-line for the day, I just asked the same question of every page and link encountered: Why do I need to know this? ... beyond 'curiosity' that is.

dead cats


And that's how civilization ended, not with a bang, but with an endless childlike abandon into a garden of curios. An auditorium of people stand in ovation before a kitten who has just done a normal silly kitten thing. Like our evolutionarily quite valid thirst for salt, fats and sugars, a 'natural' craving that served us quite well for a million years of nutritional scarcity, our natural craving to 'investigate and understand', our inherent child-like curiosity which brought us to such fantastic understanding of the Natural Sciences over the past dozen millenia is now faced with a situation of our own clever-making where the intellectual mind-candy is delivered by the truckload, with more trucks queued up behind it, mountains of intellectual delights, and we can't stop at just one.

Welcome to the new Calorie Counting.

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