Redefining the phrase: “Reach out and touch someone,” but spurring the question: “Where have all the encyclopedia salesmen gone?”
This morning, while feeding my puppies, I was struck by a thought. People will often cite the internet and electronic media as “cold.” I disagree. In my opinion, we are, in reality, using this technology specifically to reach out, personalize the world, share, and touch lives.
I am no stranger to the web. I was introduced to the online universe in the early 90’s by an artist colleague working for the Massachusetts Cultural Council who described a new horizon where artists were able to get their work seen, heard, read. It was a place that was not fenced in by the arts world gatekeepers; a place to reach audiences with new work. Since I had already experienced the mainstream arts community where I was told that what was wanted was “fresh” and “new,” when, in actuality, that meant works which were easily classifiable and sounded like something that had been done before; I was intrigued and gladly found my way into the electronic cosmos as a “newbie.” I remember trying, then, to imagine what this “world” – with no corporeality, no physical place – would look like without having a clue as to how to navigate. It was strange, but exciting.
In the years that followed, I was a multimedia artist, fortunate to be on the roster of artists approved by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, creating music, theatre, and television works for children and adults. The internet, though limited, was helpful. Via the internet, I found and participated in what was known as “interactive literature,” where writers came together to write side by side, forming story in real time. I worked on a graphic novel. Within these experiences, I learned a great deal about writing (in the genre of science fiction at the time), myself, the world, and the web. The strong desire to find others who shared similar interests and ideas, to meet people of courage, passion and vision with whom I might not otherwise cross paths, to seek out the new, the cutting edge, the unique – all of these things fueled and solidified my love of the “online” world.
In direct contrast to my love was my ex-husband’s disdain. To him, this was a place of nonsense that didn’t truly exist. As a businessman, he didn’t need to connect to a greater audience. Once, in the early 90’s – nearly twenty years ago now — when I suggested investing in internet companies like AOL, Microsoft and Apple, he described the whole thing as “a passing phase.” Apparently, not. But he wasn’t alone.
In those days, when I described “cyberspace,” people glazed over and couldn’t understand the appeal. There weren’t a whole lot of user friendly applications or services and there was a whole lot of getting “punted,” which is what we called being kicked offline without warning. There wasn’t widespread DSL, or cable, or wireless, but that didn’t stop the wave. Over the next ten years or so, the internet came of age: dating services, email services, online classes, webinars, ebay, amazon, blogging and now youtube, facebook, twitter and a whole lot more. The internet has become the new phone book, the place to find services and directions, to ask questions, the place to read reviews, get products, do research. It summarily single-handedly replaced the paper dictionary and encyclopedia.
But in all of this seemingly endless clutter, we come back to a simple concept: connection. For most of us, living is about our relationship to others. As the world expands, it contracts. We still strive for the human factor, the touching moment; the heart-felt comment, the pat on the back, the rah-rah of a friend. Proof can be found in the boon of social sites like facebook and myspace. We, as humans, crave communication. For me, it’s what got me started here in the first place. We find strength and solace in community – whether that’s in the flesh or in the flash of electronic transfer. So many times, I’ve gone to facebook and found comments or ideas that make me smile or broaden my horizons. Our well being is a complex matter made up of jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together to create who we are and how we feel. Our communication is not limited by physical interaction or phone. Our ability to sense and touch is so much greater. It travels the airwaves, and comes through the wires and the screens. The possibilities for reaching out are infinite.