Friday, May 23, 2008
Last night I go to thinking about Emily Gould and blogging and the Internet in general. Then I started Stumbling. Then I took NyQuil. And then...something hit me.
The world is huge.
I mean, duh, but hear me out. Think of how many Web sites there are. Think of how many blogs and message boards and LiveJournal communities exist on that vast electronic space known as the Internet. I Stumbled upon a random web comic, and it was funny, but also, what with its three comments and obscure domain name, a little sad. Like, making these comics is probably this guy's passion, and he puts out there for all to see, but most people will never see it, simply because there's so much else to look at online.
They say that the Internet has interconnected the world, but I almost think the opposite is true. The Internet, I believe, has simply exacerbated the cultural specificities and individualism that existed in the decades and centuries before the advent of the personal computer. If anything, we've become less interconnected.
It used to be that everyone in America got their news from the same place. Obviously, there were local papers and magazines, but for the really big stories, you turned on CNN, or read the New York Times. The music you listened to came from the radio or your local record store. The comics you read were the ones syndicated in newspapers across the country. And you watched TV...on TV, either prime-time or in reruns, same as everyone else.
Now, though, it's different. There are thousands of Internet news sources, MySpace has seen the rise of hundreds of otherwise (and perhaps still) obscure bands. There are more web comics than I can count (though I read many of them, since I'm kind of a dork like that), and between SurfTheChannel, hulu, and YouTube, there are plenty of television-program-watching options. And except for the rare universal site like Google or Facebook, well, most of these Web sites are specialized and only seen b a relatively small portion of the overall population. Like this blog. Even though I know quite a few people who read it (thanks guys!), well...it's still just quite a few. Even the big blogs like Gawker may attract thousands of hits a day, but I doubt any of my friends outside of New York know what Gawker is, or read it with any regularity. Even though it has achieved a sort of national reputation, with readers across the nation (and, to some extent, the world, even though I think that just means Canada and England), it's still "Manhattan Media News and Gossip." As in, for people who live in New York. And New York's a big city but still just a dot on your typical map of the globe.
And it kind of saddens me. We live in age in which information is so fragmented and divided and specialized, you can find anything you're looking for, but it's very much an individual journey. I live by myself, so I can appreciate the values of alone-time, but I sometimes wish I lived in an era before the Internet, when I could open the New York Times, read the story on Page 2, and know that millions of people across the country were reading and absorbing the exact same information. It's comforting, I guess.
This, I take it, is the appeal of the small town, where everybody knows your name, profession, and children's birthdays. Yes, it's quaint, but it's nice to know that you're never really alone, that everyone living around you is connected in the same general informational network--not virtual, but real. Sure, it might get annoying because gossip travels fast and everyone will know your business, but it's nice that everyone you know is centered around the same imaginary axis, that everyone is in tune with each other. Walking down the streets of Manhattan I pass hundreds of people a day, and I will never know their stories or secrets, the tragedies and relationships that define their lives, their parents' names, what they had for dinner. Not that I'd really want to--there are just so many people--but I think New York Magazine had it right when it said that "we're not 8 million people sharing a single metropolis—we’re each living in our own private Idaho." And there is something scary to me about living in my tiny world, going about my business, seeing my friends, and never getting to know 99% of the people who share this island with me.
Have you ever left a club at 4am? It's sad, not just because the night is over, but because all of a sudden the music stops, the lights go on, and everyone drunkenly shuffles out. This shared experience of dancing to music and drinking at the bar and, yes, sometimes even talking to each other has ended, and everyone leaves, knowing that might not ever see each other again; and if they do, it's never the same. I know comparing an existential crisis to a night of clubbing may seem like a bit of a stretch, but it's a comforting feeling, really, being at a place like that, where for a couple of hours these otherwise unconnected people are all doing the same thing in the same space, and when that ends, it's a harsh little reminder that this is what American--or at least New York--life has become, a series of individual moments that sometimes cross paths but usually whiz by each other, each humming along to its own invisible rhythm.
Or maybe life has always been like that, everywhere, but the comings and goings of all the pseudo-celebrities and Craigslist postings and blogs and IMs just makes this disconnect more prevalent and noticeable. You used to not know what other people were up to, so you didn't care; now I know what my friend is doing on the other side of the country, but there's still nothing I can do to affect that; short of hopping on a plane and visiting her, all I can do is sit at my computer desk and wait for her to get back from being away.
I think this is the also the appeal of celebrity gossip. There are a thousand web comics and views of Iraq and databases, but there is only Michael Jackson, and when he dangles his baby over the ledge of his hotel, it is something everyone can be equally creeped out by. It is a universal moment, and all those different blogs and news sources and gossip circles that notice it will be discussing the same thing, maybe in different ways, but concerning the same event. I notice that gossip blogs more than any other news source link to each other. Not just "here's this article we're linking to, and here's our commentary," but "according to this blog, Britney Spears did so-and-so." It is a true interconnection, a network of shared information and values, a chance for everyone to notice the same thing.
I guess this is all a little emo. You know, we are all alone and all that jazz. And I know that's not exactly true, but when it's 2am and I'm Stumbling across all these Web sites that I'll probably never give a second glance, well, it makes me think. The world is huge.