A lot has been going on for me lately in the real world. A couple weeks ago I realized rather abruptly but very decisively that Brooklyn was the wrong place for me to live. There were loads of reasons and I just don’t feel like enumerating them right now. But they all came crashing together at once and it was clear that the only appropriate action was to move. I was utterly unprepared to move. I was about to embark on a six-week tour of the Midwest and Florida (this is what happens when you schedule your own tours and you’re kind of stupid). I’d only just moved a carload of stuff out of storage into my Brooklyn place making it so that I now had more things in there than could possibly fit in my PT Cruiser. I had a whole line-up of stuff planned that was based upon my being in New York. But the situation dictated action and I had to do what was necessary. So I did.
The rest of the world paid no attention to my need for it to slow down while I took care of all this. So I was madly scrambling to find a place to live, rehearse and play a Zero Defex gig, be in a documentary about my life, act in a film a friend was making and which I’d agreed to appear in, re-arrange my tour to accommodate traveling from Akron rather than from New York, make arrangements so I could get to each of the places on the tour in time with places to stay and such like, write a new book, write a couple articles I’d been asked to do (unpaid, of course, grumble)… You get the picture, I hope. In short, I was “hell busy” as my Chinese co-worker at Tsuburaya Productions used to say.
Just to make life more interesting, as I was traveling to my first engagement in Lawrence, Kansas, I noticed my radiator was leaking like a sieve and the power steering fluid was disappearing as well. I spent a couple hours in the town of Plainfield, Indiana waiting for a tow truck from Triple-A. When the truck I arrived I chatted with the driver about what to do next and decided that I might just be able to make it to the Missouri Zen Center in St Louis if I stopped frequently to refill the radiator. This would be more economical than spending the weekend in a Motel 6 in Plainfield waiting for a repair shop to open on Monday morning, and then staying in Plainfield for however long it took them to get around to my car.
I made it to St Louis well after midnight without over-heating the engine, though I came close toward the end. Sunday morning I was up at dawn to sit with the group here, who were very kind and accommodating. They even took me out to Vintage Vinyl Records, the local hip record shop and provided delicious home-made curry.
With all of this massive turmoil going on in the real world, I kept finding myself descending into cyberspace. So in addition to the dozens of real life relationships, problems and joys I was juggling, I was also juggling a number of virtual things, some related to this blog and some not. The difference between the real world stuff I was dealing with and the virtual stuff was that there was an illusion of control involved in the virtual stuff. While I had no choice, or not much choice, of what I could deal with in my actual life, I appeared to have some choice of what to attend to in the virtual universe of on line interactions. That is to say, it felt like I could dip into that world (this world!) when I wanted to and also leave when I pleased. That felt like kind of a relief compared to the rest of the stuff I could not control so easily.
I found myself getting uncharacteristically drawn into certain aspects of virtual world communications and miscommunications. This is not the first time something like this has happened. In fact it’s a pattern that has persisted pretty much ever since I started getting involved in on-line stuff. It took a while to notice it, and it seems a bit subtle (or perhaps I’m a little slow) so that I often find myself lured into this pattern before I see what’s happening.
When my mom was dying of Huntington’s Disease, my dad spent a lot of time on his computer chatting, arguing, playing games and otherwise interacting with a host of people he had never seen in the flesh. Whenever I’d visit I made it my mission to get him away from the computer. He was following exactly the same pattern as I’d seen in myself many times. He was escaping from a painful, uncontrollable real world situation into a more seemingly controllable virtual realm.
The real tip-off that I was currently being drawn too deeply into cyberspace came this morning during another crack-of-dawn zazen here at the Missouri Zen Center. My mind kept drifting off, as one might expect given the number of real world things I’ve been dealing with. But it wasn’t any of the real world stuff that my brain kept coughing up at me this morning. It wasn’t about my car repair, or whether I’d make it to my first talk tomorrow, or the apartment I’m trying to rent in Akron, or the various interactions I needed to work out to make this stuff happen. Instead, it was all a bunch of virtual world interactions that, frankly, are not really very necessary.
Sometimes when one is at a loss as to what one should do, one can speak to friends about it and see what they think. Sometimes your friends are dead wrong. But even that can be useful to hear. But interactions with people are very dependent upon the situations in which you have those interactions. People who you interact with only or primarily in cyberspace want to keep you there. They are depending on you to provide them with an escape from their real worlds as you depend on them for an escape from yours.
I’ve noticed that these days a lot of people use the word “talk” to refer to on-line interactions. When they say they talked to someone, what it often means is that they emailed, texted or chatted on-line with that person. That isn’t really the same as talking. There is a lot missing when conversations are conducted exclusively with words.
People who know each other only from on line interactions will tend to reinforce a set of values derived from on line communications with others who spend far too much time on line. In other words, these people will never, ever, in a million years tell you that maybe part of what’s wrong is you’re spending too much time on line. They are probably unaware of the problem themselves. Also, someone who has seldom or perhaps never seen you in the flesh doesn’t really know you no matter how skillful they may be at making it appear that they do when they interact with you on line. In my own case, a lot of people read me a little too closely and invent an imaginary world in which I am their very close friend. Yet I don’t know them at all.
When I see someone getting far more emotional than is necessary over something on-line my first guess is that there is something unpleasant happening in their actual lives. When I see two or more people engaging in some kind of heated banter on-line I assume they are both using it as an escape from a painful reality into a more seemingly manageable on-line world. After all, to escape an on-line conflict all you need to do is flip a switch. The real world does not operate that way. Conflicts on-line then become a form of "escapist entertainment" -- to create a new meaning for that tired phrase. A juicier type of video game.
Whenever I say anything about the matter of people spending too much time in cyberspace the comments section of this blog goes apeshit with people defending their own desires to escape into virtual reality. Because most of these people are very clever and good with words, they are quite creative in arguing their cases. If you’re interested in seeing some of this at work I suggest clicking on the comments button below this piece (for those reading on Facebook, go to the original blog at hardcorezen.blogspot.com). I can almost guarantee you’ll find a number of people who have worked hard at coming up with quite eloquent and skilled defenses of spending too much time in the on line realm. I’ve added this very paragraph you’re reading right now just to set up a fun challenge for those people. I’m sure they’ll find impressive ways to rise to it. (Stay away from badly paraphrasing me, though. That’s really getting old. Thanks.)
But me, I’m going to step back from the on line world for a little while. I’m just stepping back, not stepping out. I’ll still keep posting my usual piece here every three days or so, as I have been. But I won’t be looking in on the comments section or responding to what’s said there for a time. If you have something you really feel you must say to me, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eventually, once things settle out a little, I’ll be back there. I’m sure the spammers and trolls will get a little rambunctious. Just remember, they’re probably dealing with some heavy shit at home. So play nice.
I think it’s really important to watch this kind of thing carefully. Remember that human beings lived for a long time with absolutely no interaction over the Internets. There is nothing really urgent in any chat room, or blog comments section, or on Facebook, or in Second Life, or in any of those places (which aren’t really places at all) that truly needs your attention. It’s just a sophisticated form of entertainment. It may be interactive, but it’s not real interaction. Nothing said there actually matters much. You can live without it. Anybody who absolutely needs to communicate with you will find some means other than on the comments section of some blog or via an on-line chat service.
The car is in the shop right now. The estimated bill is $400 and the repair time is three hours. So I’ll make it to the talk in Lawrence tomorrow. Since that gig and most of the others on this your are for donations without a guarantee, I’m hoping that I end up coming out slightly ahead even with the repair bill. I probably will. But then again maybe I really should look into selling enlightenment experiences for $50,000 each.