May 04, 2003

Neither drought nor deluge nor ice nor tornado: in short, a beautiful, beautiful day, sun neither too warm in the sunlight nor too cold in the shadows -- and everyone who wanted and who could seemed to be outside, biking and skateboarding and walkmaning and rollerblading and dogwalking and cellphoning and playing obscure games with obscure balls and not so obscure frisbees and reading and, very, very occasionally, talking.

For all the activity (and apart from two or three very content couples, young and old), very, very few people sought to be in each other's company to the extent to exchanging words. And I too was among that silent majority: although I did smile and greet and small talk and generally acknowledge the existence of those who passed me by and who were at least half open to such acknowledgement. There were not many. Had I been huddled on a bench with a book or walking down the street engaged in one-sided cellular conversation or joined a walkmaned hackeysack group or struck deaf and dumb and blind, I don't know if it would have made all that much difference for all it would have been noticed. Is it that we are increasingly picky about those with whom we will socialise? or perhaps that we are increasingly careless? (Too much choice; too casual contact to be meaningful; alone in a crowd.) Have we so far redefined just what it means to socialise? Or even, perhaps: that to an increasing extent we have ceased really to care at all?

I find I don't know what to say to people I meet anymore. So (like so many others?) I resort to "small" talk: which in me rarely limits to subjects of weather and the latest films. Light conversation is not intuitive in me. Taken to an extreme and combined with rigidity and focus of thought and possible degrees of klutziness and sometimes (isolated field) genius, that has now been labelled Asperger syndrome, the mildest of the autism spectrum in the DSM-4: and yet it was not so very long ago (and still exists in many societies) that it was considered highly desirable and indeed imperative to say only what needs saying.

Is psychological health, then, only ever defined against the present environment? Is the apparent ratioed increase of persons diagnosed within the autismal (a-empathic) spectrum simply a racial evolutionary adjustment to a modern technocratic disposable society? Is this the single possible image of what one society has defined as progress?

At what point did the tool become an evangelistic master?

Literacy itself is a double-edged knife: cutting through the ignorance of isolation, but isolating in turn from the necessity to interact directly with others regularly and reasonably often. The written word, the written text, is magic. What is set into type carries an implied 'truth' which can be denied only by rejecting the validity of its context, substance, and source together. The written word allows attempted translation of thought without geographic barriers (but very much retaining barriers of language and societal context and even electricity): but it also erects entirely new barriers born of the lack of necessity for face-to-face conversation. As with all forms of communicative interaction it creates the illusion of accurate translation: but simultaneously it removes all direct feedback, as well as any perceived necessity to build on or improve the initial level of (mis)understanding.

Is it possible to love without the attempt to understand outside one's own native context, to appreciate the alien, to suspend any instinctive belief in one's own ego-socio-anthrocentric superior way of life? Is a more general love even considered a desirable evolutionary trait in a technocratic indulgement-based society?

There is a modern Internet habit that never ceases to startle me whenever I encounter it: that of carrying on multiple conversations with nonlinked groups, simultaneously. (The last time I realised I had encountered it the awareness of another's distraction distracted me such that I hit the wrong key in attempting to find something to say and enter, and my screen blinked and then froze.) In its very commonality it is something I must seek to understand, but it is not something I can do, any more than I could carry on a cellular conversation in the presence of another person or group of which I am a social part. To speak with another person demands my full attention. Yet modern society seems to see this type of social multitasking as increasingly the expected norm. It is not that our consciousness generally has been trained to be able to release an overflow potential such that full (or perhaps call it 'capacity') attention can be given to each separate person or group with whom one is currently interacting. Each isolated facet of that fragmented conversation comes across strongly to me as somehow distracted, elsewhere focused: but an elsewhere existing nowhere among the many conversations and nowhere in that simultaneous slice of 'real' life. If at least part of the 'I' could be said to exist in that focus: infinite shattering, infinite out-of-focus reflection, prismatic refraction within prismatic reflection, with never a parabolic mirror to re-collect it.

Empty mirror.

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