Life outside the Internet

Peter
Peter Jackson
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

"When I hear the word blog, I want to throw up," said a friend, as we sat at his table eating sumptuous prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes, washing it down with a dense, oaky shiraz.

Fortunately, the offending word did not induce him to purge on the spot, and for that we were thankful. But among the six of us at the table, his sentiment found some empathy. Many of us do feel overwhelmed and even repulsed by this virtual vomitorium of raw opinion and banter at our fingertips.

"When I hear the word blog, I want to throw up," said a friend, as we sat at his table eating sumptuous prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes, washing it down with a dense, oaky shiraz.

Fortunately, the offending word did not induce him to purge on the spot, and for that we were thankful. But among the six of us at the table, his sentiment found some empathy. Many of us do feel overwhelmed and even repulsed by this virtual vomitorium of raw opinion and banter at our fingertips.

Twitter also came into our crosshairs. There is no real purpose or value in Twitter. It reduces communication to a barrage of truncated comments - fleeting thoughts pecked out on keyboards and spewed into the Ethernet like so much flotsam and jetsam. It's like garbage in the wind, candy wrappers fluttering across a schoolyard, scattering every which way before draining into a gutter of electronic oblivion.

Self-obsession

In my opinion, online networking, in all its forms, has become a vast wasteland of self-obsession, of unrequited companionship, of time-consuming diversion and societal alienation.

I would go so far as to suggest it is unnatural even to be able to connect in this way to friends, family and total strangers every waking minute of the day. Perpetual connectivity leads to contempt and indifference. Context is filtered or even removed. Such parameters make it easy for deviants to prey on the innocent. But it must surely affect the quality of more amicable relationships, too.

Now, I do peruse blogs. I will occasionally post comments. This column could be construed as a weekly blog, particularly if you read it online.

But I have avoided social networking with studious resolve. I don't avoid it for the most commonly cited reasons: hucksters, predators and identity thieves, or the risk of humiliating myself through careless disclosure. I avoid it for more esthetic reasons. I'm simply not comfortable transferring my social life to cyberspace.

This weekend, I stumbled upon the perfect metaphor for all that is wrong with computer-based interaction.

It's called the virtual choir.

Nora Young, host of CBC Radio's technology show "Spark," aired an interview Sunday with American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre. Whitacre's choral compositions have become quite popular with choirs around the world, including here in Newfoundland.

Here's how his virtual choir works.

Whitacre posted a video online of himself conducting one of his own works - in this case, "Lux Aurumque" - with a simple piano accompaniment. Choristers were invited to obtain the sheet music and record themselves singing their individual part in front of a webcam, following his cues on screen and listening to the piano in earphones.

With technical assistance, Whitacre gathered the posted video responses and mixed the audio into an a cappella performance of his work. For extra effect, his producer created a video collage featuring Whitacre and his singers performing on a virtual stage. The immediate effect is quite striking.

You can see it here:

http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs&feature=watch

.

But you may find the initial impact gives way to a sense of sadness as you think about what this project really represents. In fact, Whitacres vocalists are the total antithesis of a choir. They are nothing but images of individual people, in their own dwellings, singing their own lonely parts to a piano in their heads. In the video collage, they look like Superman villains - imprisoned in two-dimensional panes of glass as they hover in space.

A choir, of course, consists of real people, people who sing together in physical proximity. One of them may pick up the aroma of another's hastily consumed lasagna, the whiff of armpits or forbidden cologne. They can wink or smile at each other, or whisper advice about this or that note. And when the conductor finally cues the opening strains, they are singing together, blending together as one.

A choir is not just a collection of soloists singing in isolation. It is a bonding experience. And the end result reflects it.

To hear the difference, check out Whitacre's live premiere of "Lux Aurumque" at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI_SdYb2HXo&feature=player

.

There, you'll see a real choir in full flight, weaving and ducking in formation like a flock of starlings. It is the ultimate in social networking, live and in Technicolor.

It may seem curmudgeonly to curse the prevalence of online interaction. It has, after all, opened new doors for people who can't otherwise connect in person for any variety of reasons.

But I think the medium is actually replacing true interaction in many lives. Alienation is the cause of so many troubles in society, from depression to crime to a lack of civic pride. Not to mention obesity and a lack of motivation.

It's difficult to predict where this phenomenon is headed. What I do know, however, is that an evening with roast beef, fine wine and good friends is infinitely more satisfying than a night perched in front of a video linkup.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted at pjackson@thetelegram.com - or you can drop by in person and say hello.

Organizations: CBC Radio

Geographic location: Twitter, Newfoundland, Technicolor

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • I C Clearly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    The author's black and white view of the social impacts of the internet is one sided. I see the internet as a tool that breaks down isolation, enables communication, and removes the barriers of distance and time allowing individuals to communicate regardless of their geography or personal schedule. It is a medium that gives all persons equal footing to share their ideas - eliminating the monopoly of those that have access to one way distribution mediums controlled by mainstream media, and erasing the communication challenges that distance presents. Sharing ideas is not subject to proximity, timing, editorial control, organizational agendas or outright censorship everyone has an equal opportunity and voice.
    The internet is not meant to replace traditional means of communication - it is meant to add to it, and instead of impairing relationships amongst individuals, it presents the opportunity to build relationships that would never have occurred before. We can now share ideas with individuals outside our social and geographic circles, opening our minds to ideas and viewpoints that were never accessible. Events are discussed in real time, and one can access whatever resources they wish at no cost. Yes, there is a dark side to the internet and there is garbage, no different than the garbage that may be published and shared by traditional means. That doesnt mean that you have to read or participate in it. There's a big big world of information out there, and the net is the tool that makes it accessible to all of us - not just the privileged few. Rather than relying on someone else to edit the information that you consume, that tasks is placed where it should be with the individual. That, in itself, is a very positive thing.
    Like it or not the internet is here to stay, and will only gain importance to society.

  • Pete II
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    After Peter's satirical column on municipal elections, I am never sure whether the text is literal or he has honed his satirical skills.

    Was this not the same debate over the printing press? Was not the translation of the gospel in to English (to be mass printed) just as risky or just as despised.

    Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the KJV of the Bible. Perhaps the most historic attribute of this event is that the State authorized it's distribution. The rapid rise in literacy in the British Empire was one of the consequences.

    The global cyber-world not only facilitates communication across languages but accelerates literacy. Has the tower of Babel come full circle? Will the Internet be the undoing of intellectual literacy? Who knows?

    But don't throw out the library just because of a bad day in the pulp fiction section.

  • I C Clearly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    The author's black and white view of the social impacts of the internet is one sided. I see the internet as a tool that breaks down isolation, enables communication, and removes the barriers of distance and time allowing individuals to communicate regardless of their geography or personal schedule. It is a medium that gives all persons equal footing to share their ideas - eliminating the monopoly of those that have access to one way distribution mediums controlled by mainstream media, and erasing the communication challenges that distance presents. Sharing ideas is not subject to proximity, timing, editorial control, organizational agendas or outright censorship everyone has an equal opportunity and voice.
    The internet is not meant to replace traditional means of communication - it is meant to add to it, and instead of impairing relationships amongst individuals, it presents the opportunity to build relationships that would never have occurred before. We can now share ideas with individuals outside our social and geographic circles, opening our minds to ideas and viewpoints that were never accessible. Events are discussed in real time, and one can access whatever resources they wish at no cost. Yes, there is a dark side to the internet and there is garbage, no different than the garbage that may be published and shared by traditional means. That doesnt mean that you have to read or participate in it. There's a big big world of information out there, and the net is the tool that makes it accessible to all of us - not just the privileged few. Rather than relying on someone else to edit the information that you consume, that tasks is placed where it should be with the individual. That, in itself, is a very positive thing.
    Like it or not the internet is here to stay, and will only gain importance to society.

  • Pete II
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    After Peter's satirical column on municipal elections, I am never sure whether the text is literal or he has honed his satirical skills.

    Was this not the same debate over the printing press? Was not the translation of the gospel in to English (to be mass printed) just as risky or just as despised.

    Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the KJV of the Bible. Perhaps the most historic attribute of this event is that the State authorized it's distribution. The rapid rise in literacy in the British Empire was one of the consequences.

    The global cyber-world not only facilitates communication across languages but accelerates literacy. Has the tower of Babel come full circle? Will the Internet be the undoing of intellectual literacy? Who knows?

    But don't throw out the library just because of a bad day in the pulp fiction section.