The Great Multiplier

Ahhhh the Internet – the medium through which this message is relayed. As Water rightly said, it has no moral proclivities; it is only a faster medium and a multiplier. So what does that reveal about Wheat’s post: Never There Or Here For That Matter? Since I am but one small ingredient, I will try to strip back the multiplication and see what we are adding up over and over and over again. If this one plus one plus one process makes my post overly verbose, then please excuse my dear Aunt Sally.

You’ve lost your home

In Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he states that there are two ways to take away someone’s home, by force and by making it look like everyone else’s home. In the book he recounts visiting the Middle East and while going through the market place surrounded by the beautiful sights, smells and sounds, he turns the corner and is faced with none other than the Colonel, who is looking down with omnipresent greatness and a legion of Kentucky Fried Chickens.

Just like that, he is back at home. He has lost his beautiful locale to visit, but worse yet, has that little corner of the market lost its home? Sure it has. The Colonel, that savvy strategist, has cornered the market! This feels like a different facet of Wheat’s idea. Maybe it is a fraction of it, but they have a common denominator. For Friedman this loss of a sense of place occurs in the physical realm. For our tech generation the Internet creates a new place that supplants the physical realm and appeals to our senses while often seeming senseless. Can I get a “How R U” from the congregation? Feel free to LOL.

Uncle Tom’s Cell Phone

About six years ago an old (and older) supervisor of mine Tom was going to get a laptop and asked me to accompany him, since he is not technologically inclined. Tom is of a different time. He is a man of great integrity who has a unique, singular worldview tempered by his own logical reasoning process. Buying the computer was easy, what unfolded next was the cell phone. The small store we bought the computer from was also a Verizon dealer and Tom wanted to get a cell phone as well. It was quite a site to see the enthusiastic young salesperson having a conversation at Tom, while Tom was having one back at him. Clearly they should have blogged it out. The kid was espousing the merits of the network’s coverage across the nation and said the only place there was not coverage is in the heart of national parks where Verizon cannot place cell phone towers. “Just think of it” he said, “You could be reached anywhere!” Tom’s reply, “Would you want to be?” I don’t think the kid heard what Tom was saying. A few months ago at a happy hour, Tom told me of Mark Twain’s response to the first transatlantic telegraph being sent. Twain said something to the effect of “Sure that’s amazing, but will they have anything to say?” Tom left the store with a new cell phone, but I don’t think the kid in the store connected with his trepidation, and never the twain shall meet.

When we got to Tom’s car he started to put the cell phone back in the box and then, no kidding, into the trunk of his car. “Tom,” I said, “The kid in the store said it was set up and ready to go. You know the benefit of a cell is that you can have it with you.” Tom, ever the blue-blooded (in a Vulcan way, not an aristocratic way) said, “There isn’t anyone I need to call.” Then he put it in the trunk of his car. I just smiled, bemused by the wonder of it all.

Now for the horrified among you, be not alarmed. That was years ago, and Tom now keeps his cell phone on him and has since been assimilated into the collective known as Facebook. If I was cool enough I’d have an animated network map to show how cell phone coverage has increased over the years. I’m sure it would look like one of those scary movies about a virus spreading across the nation.

The Tree of Wisdom?

So if Water is going to hearken back to the idea of the tabernacle, then I’m going to roll time back closer to “In the beginning”. In the Garden of Eden there was the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve got into big trouble because they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course, they did this because that snake in the grass is peddling wisdom – to be like God. Unfortunately knowledge does not equate to wisdom. Knowing it is raining is not the same as knowing to get out of the rain. The most striking point of the story to me is that there is another tree in the garden – at least another tree with a cool name – the Tree of Life. Man was thrown out so he would not also eat of this tree. What surprises me is the choice. They chose knowledge over life, while looking for wisdom. I think this choice is central to man. Mark Twain, Twain Mark, Two Mark, Two Fathom, To Understand.

Interestingly the people that I email, call, write, and telegraph are ones that I met outside of the context of technology. That group of people might have included an interesting man at the checkout line at the grocery store, but I never spoke to him because I was reading a NYT article on my phone. Now I know that this does not apply to you lovely people who met your life companion through an online dating service, but what I’m saying is that I’m afraid sometimes our technology separates us more that it connects us. We try to be “in the know” about everything that’s going on instead of living life. Like the tower of Babel, our ambition to reach new heights keeps us all in the tower and connected to others in the tower as opposed to those in the outside world. Maybe the people were spread out with different languages because the purpose is to work to communicate and make connections, in the same way that the purpose of wrestling with God isn’t to win, but to wrestle.

I don’t write these words from some lofty height. I’m on the ground with the Wheat by the Water in the Valley of Elah. In the course of writing this I have taken three phone calls and a couple of texts, written a few emails, and slept through a couple of nights. Even if I crafted this response in one sitting most of those previous statements would still be true. Now all of these ramblings may be neither here nor there, but that’s becoming a more and more familiar place. Next time we can meet at the grocery store. I’ll rise to the occasion.