Neil Postman, author of such popular works as Amusing Ourselves to Death and other airport reads - er, cultural criticism/philosophy - a thinker whose books I have somehow managed to avoid, let alone whose ideas I have grappled with directly, died last week at the unripe age of 72 (he smoked, no doubt).
I stopped in at The Rhino, my local watering-hole after Monday morning hockey today (lot's of fun, thank you and I even scored a couple of goals - but I'm not counting them, since there were only five of us on the ice; 3 on 2 isn't quite real, if you know what I'm saying). Following a burger, and on my 2nd pint, I came across "an appreciation" of Postman published in Saturday's Globe and Mail - http://globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20031011/POSTMAN11//?query=amusing+ourselves+to /.
Postman, apparently, focused much of his work on technology, insisting that we must think about very basic questions about a technology before inviting it into our world. "What is the problem this technology is to solve? Whose problem is it exactly? And if this technological solution solves a legitimate problem, what other problems will this technology create?"
Which - through the miraculous alchemy of aching muscles, alchohol and lack of sleep - led me to ponder livejournal itself: Why did I join it? What problem did I think it might solve? What problems might it then create? (As is noted in the article, and has been so widely quoted elsewhere I no longer remember who first said it, "There's no such thing as a free lunch.")
I joined livejournal on something very close to an impulse, or a whim; more impulsively, after poking around for maybe 10 minutes, I paid for a year's subscription. I liked - or thought that I thought I liked - the concept, and I definitely liked the simple elegance of the technology. (The impulse itself came from the fact that a new, and rapidly becoming dear, friend of mine - who thus far has not commented on anything I've written and who, therefore, shall remain nameless - posts here regularly.)
The above-quoted paraphrase of Postman's questions, however, has made me realize I didn't really know whether I actually understood the livejournal concept - I paid my money without knowing what I was getting into.
Vaguelly, I thought it would provide a forum for my thoughts; in retrospect, there are obviously far too many journal-ists out here for anyone to gain a large audience. And anyway, why didn't I use the technology (or something similar, which I have no doubt I could have found quite quickly with a little thumb-joint grease through google) on my own website?
So. Maybe it's just a place to (paradoxically) write a diary to whom an a random, and mostly unknown, group of people will (for whatever reason they may have) choose to read my "work" (I put that in quotation marks because I write here much more off-the-cuff than I do writing fiction, or even serious essays - http://ed-rex.com/ is an example of the latter). A public, private, diary, if you will. Saint Augustine would nod in approval (or would he?).
I hadn't really asked myself why I had come to livejournal, not what is was for, let alone asked myself what the costs of joining it might be.
Almost simultaneous with email, my first experience with the internet was usenet - thousands of "discussion groups" whose topics ranged from aardvarks to zoology, and everything in between. Public spaces where anyone and everyone could post their thoughts (or, too often, "thoughts") on the topic at hand.
At the time I was running a cloned 386 PC. For you younguns, that beast had a 40 megabite hard-drive and was loaded for bear with 2 megs of RAM. It came with Windows 3.1 pre-installed, but that antediluvian "operating system" seemed so pointless I soon deleted it and happily settled for WordPerfect 5.1 and PINE, for email and newsgroups.
My father had badgered me for about year to get online - "Why?" I'd ask, "what is it? What is it good for?" - before I finally took the plunge. (We're talking 1995 or so here.)
I had asked some of Postman's questions: What is it the internet? Why do I need it? (I didn't think to ask what problems it might create for me.)
Needless to say (I'm here, aren't I?), I was almost instantly hooked.
Where once I had banged out maybe a half-dozen letters a letter on my trusty portable (and manual!) typewriter, I found myself keeping in touch with friends and relatives all across the country. Before long, I was engaged in correspondence with a woman in Singapore. And taking part in what was, at the time (as my father so aptly put it) "the crown jewel of the internet", tbe newsgroup ott.singles. Over the following years, I would even meet a number of the participants of that group in person.
What problems has the internet created for me (and never mind the world)? Spam (of course); casual "relationships" one doesn't know how to call off; a compulsion to check mail/websites/whatever (no wonder I hardly watch television any more!). But all told, I wouldn't go back. The internet has expanded my world, I think - at the same time, my immediate, in person world, has shrunk. Is the net to blame? I don't know. My gut says it's more a question of getting older and, especially, of being a persnicketty curmudgeon with a low tolerance for people who don't stroke either my mind or my libido - and preferably both. But I can't say for sure that that is the truth.
And how does all this to contemplating livejournal, or my place within it?
(The former bits were mostly written at The Rhino. What follows is being composed upon my return home; odds are, it will be less coherent and less grammatical than what came before. But this is my journal, isn't it? Take your complaints to the judge.)
What problem does livejournal promise to resolve? What problems will it create?
Of course, livejournal is only a subset of the internet itself; it may be that asking the question of this site in particular is unfair.
But it may not be.
Why did I come here? Besides the urge the "practise writing" - the idea that this might open the floodgates of my busy, busy fingers, in practice for my serious writing - what do I expect of this? That readers will flock to my words and bow down to my wisdom?
Well, not really - though I suppose it would be nice if they did (maybe - I'm an argumentative kind of boy).
And slowly - in fits and starts, not some smooth curve - I've come to realize that I came here hoping that it would help me meet people.
Shit. So simple.
Most of my old friends have drifted away over the years. I'm not married, I have no children. I'm not involved with anyone right now. I'm no good (because, no interested in) small-talk. I saw livejournal as a "place" through I might (might!) be able to come into contact with others who share at least some of my sensibilities, my ideals, my passions. And also, a place where I might, in relative anonymity, blather on as I am doing now.
I guess it's working.
As for the cost (besides the twelve bucks or whatever it is the year's subscription cost), the jury's still out - or (as they say), only time will tell.
(And I will buy anyone who wants one, who actually reaches the end of this meandering, self-involved pensee, a beer or equivelent beverage at the Toronto watering-hole of his or her choice. Offer must be accepted by October 16.)
(One more parenthetical remark: I really have to do something about my icon - I look like a small-town politician, or worse, a real-estate agent.)