I subscribe to a very, very heavily-trafficed LISTSERV mailing list called Wallace-l. While the primary subject is David Foster Wallace, there are often discussions about topics tangentially related to him, such as, in this case, a commencement address by contemporary writer Jonathan Franzen at Kenyon College, where David Foster Wallace delivered his famous address which became the short book, This Is Water, and can be found in full here.
I was, rather suddenly, compelled to write a quick response to some of the discussants. I wanted to let them know that not all of us college kids are so blindly devoted to the Web. Some of us see its current limitations. (And some of us, myself included, are working to compensate for them.)
So, here it is.
I just read the modified version of Franzen’s address on NYT.com.
I have no idea what the age demographics of this mailing list are. As a college student myself, I believe that Franzen did bring up a couple of good points about technology and the pervasive nature thereof.
While it is silly to make some broad overarching statement about how many college students feel about technology, I feel compelled to detail in, like, four (run-on) sentences what many of us socially-networked natives of the web feel.
1.) It’s kind of ironic that we search and search for more meaning and personal connection, more run-ins and confrontations with other people, yet do so by demanding more ways to connect through facebook and more powerful, socially-aware deep-digging algorithms from Google, Bing, and other such unfortunately-named “Decision-” or “Knowledge Engines” instead of just backing away from the computer screen and going out there and actually engaging one-to-one with others.
2.) Sometimes there are things which simply can’t be conveyed with a keyboard, which is why it’s at once sad and a bit charming to see lots and lots of teenagers writing hand-written notes, scanning them, and posting the scanned images to their Tumblr accounts.
3.) Many of us take guilty pleasure when we have to apologize for being AFK, because, well, everyone deserves a little shameless AFK time every once in awhile.
4.) We’ve all been told that computing /is/ infinite possibility, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that this is false, that it has been false, that it’s time AF our Ks that provides the greatest room for expression and connection, that allows us to be human and forces us–by dint of longstanding social custom–to be more civil and humane to one another than we’re obliged to be online.
The 19-22 year old set, many of us, have this love-hate thing going on with technology. Those younger embrace it like we never could. I grew up learning how to socialize and be productive before I got onto facebook or was introduced to MS Word. Many young people today learned how to socialize through their use of Facebook. They are blind to technology’s limitations; their world is large and linked and easily navigable, but it’s shallow. Meaning carries a time-decay function, now.
It’s kind of like that DFW quote about modern party dance. Those who choose not to use facebook or twitter or tumblr or whatever because of those platforms’ confining nature are themselves confined. Choosing not to use those tools, ostensibly in order to converse and communicate more freely, in turn removes the non-user from the very space(s) where her/his friends are conversing and communicating blithely because they believe they’re engaging each other in this new and putatively unconstrained way.
Jesus this was long and rambling, but that’s okay.