09 March 2010

Friends used to share knowledge, life before Wikipedia

I was just sitting there, mind deep in not so meaningful cogitations on the nature of my friendship with M. who periodically sends me titles of heady fiction to read whilst planting imaginative riffs referring back to a passage in a book we discussed about three emails (or one year) ago. These fiction-reading assignments come through email but my mind took me to some Charlie’s Angels scenario in which I’m hovering over a speaker phone and receiving literary missions. Nothing so strange to one as one’s own mind, right? Well then, I cogitated wrong and mixed up Charlie for that other guy who is actually in his office with the angels and I tried to remember his name.
Years ago, I could have waited for the next gathering with friends, confessed to my mental blank and got a booming collective “Bosley”! Or not. Even over email, sending out a query to a selected group of friends could spark and lively conversation, or at least hilarious put downs at one another’s mistaken answers.
That would have been in the embryonic days of the web. Today, you get “haven’t you heard of Google?” Or you get sent a link to Wikipedia. Wam bam thank you mam. Don’t get wrong, I have completely embraced the web and I’ll admit my survival as a human being has become partly dependent on both Google and Wikipedia. It’s so convenient. No more going to bed and being kept awake by some nagging factoid that got lost in one of the waiting rooms between your conscious and subconscious. On the other hand, such lost thoughts used to bring in a stream of other thoughts, like flipping through a catalogue or an old book, and finding other interesting images and words that trigger long ignored threads of knowledge or memories. Sometimes, I just wish the internet did have the answer to so many questions.
There was a time in human existence when I could get a ride back from a party with a flustered one: “I can’t believe he said Herzog directed Aguirre, what an idiot!” And look out the window and grin to myself. Yes, in some instances, it is pleasing to see an arrogant arse be put back is his place at the pulling out of the iphone; but what a missed opportunity to experience a mélée between pro and anti Herzog camps and, perhaps, fall victim to the persuasive powers of a charismatic one who manages to steer almost the entire crowd away from the factual truth. 
Too many of our conversations are no longer allowed the luxury of lack of closure. We can’t work it out together through an elimination process, fact is final and it inhibits conversational diversions. Travelling through thoughts within encounters but with a conversational GPS aids and never going down the wrong roads. How disappointing.
I don’t want to overstate this like one of those soft columnists who make mountains out every little aspects of contemporary life. And it is worth saying that the internet-ready mobile phones are a good tool against those machos who talk through their arse day in day out, especially on the go, when, until recently, their ridiculous contentions couldn’t be challenged. Now, these people have to wait until they’re out camping.
By the same token, we use each other’s weaknesses to our advantage. It may not be the most feminist thing to do but allowing a man to talk nonsense on a first date can allow both parties to relax and/or give the woman some time to figure out her early interruption to the night’s proceedings. Of course, no one HAS to look things up on iphone, but the very presence of two menacing devices on a restaurant table, eyeing each other like two colts at high moon could prove a deterrent to erroneous harangues.
And my friend M.! All the stories he tells me about his youth, like when Truman Capote and he smoked cigars... with Fidel Castro! Ok, he’s never told me such stories, but M. was the son of artists, he grew up in a castle and he is full of the most entertaining stories. Few of them include names I recognise and some just don’t ring true at all. I still enjoy them. 
I could look up his stories and one day I know I will. I would never go to library known for its vast Hollywood and socialites collection and pour over who was where and could Marilyn Monroe really have been in Monte Carlo at the time or was she shooting Niagara? With so many facts, all too accessible, one day I’ll forget my vow to keep M.’s stories alone and mindlessly find myself on Wikipedia and undo this fantastic character in my eyes.

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