Information and Its Children

In Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, the title character eventually loses all of her children to the war she follows and tried to profit from.  My concern these days, and growing more and more over the past months and even years, is that we, too, are endangering our children (our metaphorical ones–the physical ones around right now are part of the “we”) through our own slavish camp-following of the internet.

That’s the reason for the subtitle of Robert Leston’s and my Beyond the Blogosphere: Information and Its Children, which we are now in the process of combing page proofs for errors.  With the book finished (almost) and scheduled to appear at the end of the year, my question now is, even after losing our “children,” will we (all of us) push on, as Mother Courage does?  Will we accept what the world “brings” us and try to make the best of it?  Or will we manage to find ways of taking control, even in situations far beyond our control, and make better worlds around each of us?

I’m in the process of giving up devices.  My iTouch now sits at home, where it plays music; I don’t go outside with plugs in my ears any longer.  My cell phone has been gone for almost a year–phones (and the web) are so available to me almost anywhere I go that I don’t feel I need to carry them.  And I don’t feel that I need to be so immediately available as once I imagined.  So I don’t, as Martin Lindstrom writes in today’s New York Times that many do, feel “love” for any devices.  Not right now.

Though I have loved my cars.  And my motorcycles.  We had extremely intimate relationships.

Thirty years ago, I always traveled with a tool box in my car, and even a few basic spare parts.  TLC kits for mechanical objects.  In Peace Corps in Togo, I had something similar (though much smaller) always on my motorcycle.  In both cases, when I broke down, I could generally effect repairs sufficient for me to go on.  Loving care often kept us going.  Today, cars are of a different nature than they were then (who ever heard of carburetors or distributors today?), and I have given up trying to understand them, let alone trying to fix them.  I drive, and when break down, I just call someone.  Or did, until I gave up the cell phone.

In the old days, when I saw someone beside the road, I generally stopped to see what I could do, extending my love to their vehicles and even to them.  Not today. I assume they have put in a call and that help is on the way.  And we don’t fix our phones anyhow; we just throw them away.

Am I, are most of us, using the fact of connectivity to disconnect?  I don’t know, but I am beginning to feel that something’s wrong, that we are about to drive off a cliff… or already have.

Robert’s and my book explores some of this, but we may not go far enough.  It may not be possible to go far enough.  We may, in fact, be broken down.  “We.”  All of us.  We may be sitting beside the road, unable to fix our car but not even knowing anything is broken, not even knowing we are not moving at all… the motion on the road giving us the illusion that we are moving, too.

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