© 2010 Karen Van Fossan
Before I sing the praises of modern communication technology (which I'm just about to do), I want to make a confession. Or maybe two.
I am a born optimist. In fact, in high school, I wrote an entire paper arguing for an optimistic reading of Lord of the Flies -- that vastly depressing book. (I got an A.)
I also know that I gravitate toward the outlier's position. It's not that I'll call the sky red if you call the sky blue. But I am behooved (I've never known quite why) to see many perspectives on an issue. The closest I ever got to discarding my deeply-rooted feminism, for instance, was during my first Women's Studies course in college. (My feminism is safe and sound today.)
In other words, after hearing much talk -- and much wisdom -- about how modern technology drives us apart, it's as if I can't help seeing the ways it pulls us together.
My dear friend Julie is away. Just this very minute, I got an email message from Julie. “Miss you!!!!” it said. Of course, I felt happy and connected, reading her message.
The Adventures of “Piano Dog”
Once upon a time, there was a dog who loved pianos. The only problem was, he had two left feet. Now this created a few problems, namely problems with rhythm. He would try to practice arpeggios, but only to find that he didn't know what they were. He needed someone to help, so he went on a quest, and on the way, saw another dog – and he had two right feet! Except this dog loved to play the triangle. And so, under the full moon, the first dog and the second dog set out in search of a fun-lovin' coyote [KY-oat] who lived in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. This coyote lived in a silver bullet trailer, and inside of it, she kept a recording studio and scissors for left-handed dogs – as she had been an orthopedist in a previous life, and she collected prosthetic dog legs in various sizes, shapes, and colors. Imagine the faces of those two canine vagabonds when they realized all this potential for making a band! All they needed was a really good band name. But that would have to wait because out of the sky came a...a...a...Could it be?...well...Maybe...or no...I think...wait! Wait! Yes...definitely...it's a...
The story isn't finished, because we haven't finished writing it -- we being “Us,” a combination of total strangers and long-time friends. I posted the first sentence or so on Facebook. From there, the story was picked up by Marilee in Bismarck, Debi in Mandan, Lisa in Fargo, Laura in Chicago, Sara in Georgia, and so on.
My partner's distant cousin Ryan (who found our family through electronic networking) recently asked this question on Facebook: “When you were in high school or college language class, were you forced to pick an authentic name to be called in that class? What was it?”
So far, the responses have been Ana, Chloe, Renee, Ursula, Anya, Anja, Juliet (that was mine), Noel, Elena, Heidi, Jeanne, and Perla.
Suddenly, my strange and vulnerable experiences in high school French class became the stuff of connection across the miles.
Fourth and final example:
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a poem to my blog. Maggy in Chicago posted a poem in response, Kathleen in Oregon posted a reply to Maggy's poem, and so on. Using modern technology, we engaged in an age-old art -- telling our life stories and getting feedback.
Having lived in the Western world all my life, these exchanges are as close as I've ever come to sharing winter tales around a fire. Never having lived in a such a circular culture, I relish any coming together of our stories. I see this as a return to our human (narrative) roots.
In my field, Dance/Movement Therapy, there is a belief that humanity (and perhaps other species as well) need to be witnessed -- seen, heard, noticed, and acknowledged. We need this even more than we need to be understood. Not only that, we need to let others know we've witnessed them.
So, when my old friend Michele posts, “Thanks for a super fun NYE!” – my instinct is to reply, “That was one of my favorite New Years Eves ever!” She lets me know she has seen me, I let her know I have seen her. (In the world of Facebook, we also know we are seen by other loved ones and friends.) In these ways, we co-create community.
Really, though, I'm not singing the praises of technology, as much as humanity itself. Like chimps, baboons, gorillas, and bonobos, we thrive when we are connected to one another. While technology drives us apart, we also turn it around to pull us together.
Now for my secret theory:
Generally, people in indigenous cultures say they can rely on psychic communication more than people in technological cultures do. But could it be that telepathy and communication technology have something in common? Both are forms of sharing information across great distances, the transfer of information takes place in largely invisible realms, and the more you think about it, the more incredible it seems that it actually works.
Is it possible that communication technology is like training for telepathy? Soon, even before I check that email, post, or comment – I'll know my friends love me. And they'll know I love them, too.