A Story Lost In Noise

Source: Orin Zebest

Open Bellows, source: Orin Zebest on Flickr

The human life relies on stories. From our personal relationships ("we met on a rainy night in Chicago and almost died of pneumonia") to the things we own ("I found this awesome lamp in a dingy thrift store on the east side") to how we perceive ourselves ("I am a people person", "I am not a people person"), our perception of the world depends on stories. Despite the fact that stories are just a series of events in linear order, we can't help but fashion them into meaning. If we didn't, life would seem random, meaningless, and ultimately, far too chaotic for us to handle.

All of human evolution runs on our stories. We structure our lives, our legacies, and our psychologies on the things we experience, see, and do. History books try to take count of everything that has ever happened, and truth-seekers try to find pieces of the past, present, and future with almost pathological fervor. I personally try to document as much of my life as possible, and it frightens me when I can't remember someone's face or name. Diseases that affect our memory and personalities terrify us: by erasing our past, they erase our humanity. Without thoughts, memories, and dreams that we can look back on, we may as well be rocks resting on an ocean shore. Without stories, we suffer an unbearable lightness of being. People may run from old stories they don't like, but they also run towards new ones.  No matter where or who we are, we seek to weigh ourselves down with experiences, purpose, and hopefully, meaning. I believe this is a universal human quality.

Yet modern life's roaring pace makes it easy to forget that there is a greater picture we're trying to paint ourselves into. I work with computers all day, and I am on one from the time I get up until I go to sleep. The internet has simultaneously exploded and compressed our existence: everything I could possibly want to see or know is right at our fingertips, but I can't touch it. Digital space transplants real space into an intellectual ether that is easy to see but difficult to comprehend. I can learn more about other people than we ever wanted to know, but it precludes me from doing anything but hoping that they're browsing me, too. It starts to feel as though meaning is lost to information. It's dizzying to think about how many WiFi waves must be flying through my head right now.

Holiday noise, source: Roͬͬ͠͠͡͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠sͬͬ͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠aͬͬ͠͠͠͠͠͠͠ Menkman on Flickr

Holiday noise, source: Roͬͬ͠͠͡͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠sͬͬ͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠aͬͬ͠͠͠͠͠͠͠ Menkman on Flickr

I am an introvert at heart and as a child, I had too few friends and too much access to hardware. Computers understood me, and I understood them. The internet saved me, and allowed me to connect with other people through mediums I could understand. It was safer there. Still pictures, video games, text. I made friends whose real names I never knew and whose faces I never saw. I made stories through games, conversations, roleplaying, creative tools. I still have that close connection with computers and the internet. I've grown up and I've come to understand them, how they work. Now, I make a living working on that things born of that intuition and love. It's weird to think that most of my childhood memories are in 2D, and that so much of my time nowadays is spent in a screen. I'll remember specific websites better than what my apartment looked like in a decade or two.

That was a magical time of crappily built websites, tables, and weird hypertext fiction and GIFs of dancing babies. Today I understand much more about the web, and the amount of distracting, immersive content, videos, games, photos, sites, and networks make it easy to forget why I got on the computer in the first place. It makes it easy to forget who I am other than just a consumer of information as opposed to a synthesizer, producer, and creator. It can be overwhelming to think about how much information flies through the air, in cables, to space, to distant satellites, and between computers. From war communications to cat pictures to lovers on Skype swinging across the globe in milliseconds, it's easy to be consumed by the thought of how much is out there. In some ways, it's almost spiritual--electric ghosts spiraling through the world. And there's nothing to do but push it out of your head. It's in the background of my mind like the soft ringing in my ears that never ceases.

The future speeds up our experiences and makes it easier to forget why we are. It's important to stop. Halt. Log off. Unplug. I sometimes like to go to bars, coffee shops, restaurants, where I can be away from my computer and look at people. It helps me remember that it's human connections that propelled us to where we are today. There are still people out here, not stuck--and if they are, then I'm not alone. It gets easier to think about people and think about the important questions: Where did you come from? Where are you going? What is your story? What do you want it to be? If you look closely, carefully, you see it blossom behind their eyes. It feels a space expanding and blooming inside of their head. It feels concrete, real, and human. And by the act of seeing it, pondering it, wondering it, I feel like I'm more than just the sum of my constituent, fragmented, digitized parts. Like I'm not just a story lost in all the noise.