In this world

There’s a post inside of me that I’ve tried to write probably a dozen times in the last few years, and I think I’m finally going to take a real stab at it. I won’t get it right the first time, but that’s okay. I’ll keep trying.

It has to do with why the work that I currently do resonates so deeply with me, and, in a way, it’s probably an extension a complement (or a bookend?) to my post last week in response to Gardner’s recent ER article.

Here goes nothing.

This story starts with a dream. Well, actually, it’s more like a nightmare. It’s a recurring nightmare that I used to have when I was a child, and, even now, it’s not a pleasant thing to remember.

I had the dream regularly for a while when I was probably seven or eight years old. I remember having it in the house I lived in from the time I was about four until I was ten, and I don’t remember having it after then. The point is: it was a pretty formative time in my life.

In the dream, however, I was distinctly older. I remember that I was college-aged, probably late teens, early twenties, which at the time seemed REALLY OLD. and VERY MATURE.

The plot (do dreams have “plots?”) of the dream is dim; mostly what I remember is a feeling of being completely lost in the world. I remember that the older me in the dream was searching for my family (usually my mom, sometimes my dad and brother). Everytime I would think I was getting closer, something would happen and they would disappear again. I remember that I was traveling in the dream, literally chasing my family around the world.

The point of the dream was that I was lost from the people who loved me, and, now, from a different vantage point, I can see that the real point of the dream was that I couldn’t maintain the connections with the people I loved. I was terrified of those connections being broken.

That theme — fear of losing connections with people — has followed me even as the dream has faded into a very dim memory. To this day, I have a hard time with partings — particularly parting from people I love when I am (or they are) about to go on a long journey.

Six years ago, my husband (who was then my boyfriend) decided to move across the country for graduate school. I remember an irrational week or so in which I managed to convince myself that I needed to buy him a beeper. It’s CRAZY to think about it now, but at the time, I was utterly convinced that if I didn’t do this, our connection would simply melt away. If I had a beeper, I was sure I could keep the connection alive — like a constant ping from my heart to his.

As I write this, I remember that another facet of my childhood dream was that when I lost connections with people it was like they jumped to some other, parallel plane of existence. I knew they were still alive. I knew they were still searching for me, as I was for them, but I also knew that across these two planes we simply couldn’t see each other anymore. When Erik left for Montana, that’s how I felt. I was afraid he was going to jump planes, too.

In a way this paranoia about human connection has frequently thwarted my efforts to be close to people. I don’t feel particularly comfortable with people, much of the time. And I chalk that up, to a certain extent, with an anxiety I have about losing people.

So, what the heck does this have to do with anything?

Well, I’ve thought a lot about this dream during the last two or three years. I think about it at the oddest times, usually when I’ve experienced a really profound connection online

It hit me plain as day, today, when I came across this YouTube video:

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I was having a bit of a rough day (for no particularly important reason) and this video (forwarded by an old friend — one of my only remaining childhood friends) just grabbed me. In a moment, I was reminded of why working with technology in this particular space at this particular time means so much to me. I felt completely connected to something, by a video produced by a perfect stranger, about a topic that is always on my mind, always troubling and challenging me. I tweeted about it, and in a moment had a response from a Twitter friend whom I really only know from online communications. And in five minutes, I went from feeling disconnected, out-of-sorts, unsure of my place, to feeling completely immersed in something that was simultaneously bigger than me and also able to focus me on what is most essential to who I am.

I wish I could explain exactly what this means — perhaps that’s for another post.

7 thoughts on “In this world”

  1. Remember the old Peanuts moment when someone would light on an answer or insight and the listener would shout “That’s it!” and bowl the speaker over?

    Well, not to set you spinning or anything, but “That’s it!”

    I’m struck again by how close some of this (all of this “this” in all its “thisness” over all these wires and fiber and through these keyboards and screens) is to music, on some level, at least for me. I feel movement in the same areas of my brain….

    Thank you for posting–this.

  2. I too found this video (actually Jen sent it to me) and found it moving and right on the mark about so much of my life. [Got to love the little girl creeping into the video at the end….]

    But of course your post is about so much more than this video. It’s about the way that the fears that so many of us have about connecting with people and then the even greater fears about losing those connections. Such fears can indeed be paralyzing and can create awkwardness in those connections we do have.

    Yet I’m struck by your point about the connections that are enabled by the technology. [It seems to me that’s part of what you were trying to tap into with the notion of a beeper for Erik all those years ago.] There continues to be a lot of complaints in the media and among pundits and politicians about the way that online interaction isn’t the same as face-to-face interaction. They’re right, to a point. Yet, “not the same” simply means online interactions are different, not inferior. And what gets overlooked is exactly what your post illuminates: First, that such technologies allowed an old friend (one that you might not have kept up with without online communication) to send you something created by a stranger that touched you in a profound way. Second, online communication then provided you with another way to connect (more or less instantly) with people you’ve had little face-to-face interaction with.

    How cool is that?

  3. What a lovely post. (Cute video, too.) I agree, this stuff is first and foremost about connection. For me, it’s connection without complication — as an introvert, it’s so much easier for me to connect on the level of thoughts and ideas and feelings than in person when all our tiny judgments get in the way.

    I feel that, in some way, connecting online is almost more “real” than connecting IRL, because online, we put our true selves forward — even when that true self is a persona. It is who we feel we are on the deepest level, not who we are forced to be by our outer appearances.

  4. Gardner–Funny, for me it’s like dance (or movement). I actually think that’s really interesting. I’ve mentioned before that I often can imagine ideas in the form of a kind of dance before I can put words to them. It wouldn’t be surprising that for others, a kind of music emerges. What I find fascinating is that we don’t really talk about that level on which our brains work. What would happen if we did?

    Jeff–The pundits don’t get it. I’m more deeply connected with people now than I’ve ever been. It’s profound and it is real.

  5. @Patia Welcome back from spam purgatory — glad you could join us!

    At Faculty Academy here at UMW a few years ago, Rachel Smith (from the NMC) spoke about gaming in education. She said one thing in particular that has really stuck with me (to be clear, she said a lot of great things, but this one really resonated).

    In response to parents/teachers/critics who worry that kids will get into these games or go online and “be something they are not,” Rachel responded that it is *impossible* for someone to be what they are *not.*

    Even if the persona someone chooses to adopt is dramatically (even uncomfortably) different then his/her RL persona, that doesn’t make it any less real. And, as you point out, sometimes it may be far more real than our RL skin.

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